Why can’t policing be more like banking?

When a report published by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) found that older, larger banks did not have to compete hard enough for customers’ business, and smaller and newer banks were finding it difficult to grow and access the market, they decided to do something about it. In 2017, new data sharing regulations were introduced to tackle the problem and Open Banking was launched, effectively forcing banks to provide APIs exposing data to customers and third-party providers.

The result of this new regulation is more choice for consumers, the introduction of new, innovative financial services products, it is easier to move to another bank and the old banking institutions have been forced to provide better customer service to keep their customers. As soon as the data became available, the whole sector had an opportunity to completely transform itself.

When we look at policing, just as the CMA’s report highlighted the need for change in banking, so too have many reports and commentators on the state of policing highlighted the big problem of systems that do not talk to each other.

Back in 2016 Sir Tom Windsor, Chief Inspector of HMIC, told delegates at the Police ICT Suppliers Summit how crucial it is to tackle the problem of interoperability: "ICT is the biggest, heaviest golden key to offering efficiency and effectiveness to policing… One single police ICT system would be dangerous, for example if it fell over. What we need is a network of networks, allowing information to be transmitted more easily.”

In June last year policing minister Nick Hurd gave evidence to the Home Affairs Committee where he described a current system with “terrible amounts of duplication, systems that don’t talk to each other” and even went as far as to say “public safety is being “imperilled” by a lack of functional and interoperable police IT”.

There is no disagreement about the size of the problem and the importance of solving it.

So where is the regulation that forces this opening up of the data? And when will those regulations come in? Where is the funding for the ‘Open Policing’ initiative?

Ok, that was a rhetorical question. None of us are naive enough to think that policing is the same as banking. We know there won’t be regulations, and no-one is forcing anyone to do anything. There is no impetus from above, or from the centre to drive through this change.

So, what is the answer? Wait for something to happen? Or do we try tackling this in a different way? Can technology providers drive this change? - technology providers with great, innovative products which can connect to each other via published APIs? I think we can.

There is no doubt that legislation, funding and backing at a national level would accelerate this process, but in the absence of this, the technology community can and is starting to act now to drive change.

This week techUK is hosting a workshop to launch its “Interoperability for Policing Initiative”, with the support of the Police ICT Company. techUK members will come together to explore a simple question; is it possible for the police sector to produce a coalition of willing ICT suppliers who are prepared to open their systems to achieve a collaborative, interoperable ecosystem of police ICT products? A working group will explore this question over the months ahead. And if we succeed, we may yet see policing emulating some of the successes of banking: not an aspiration you hear often but in these circumstances, a prize that’s really worth having.

Members of techUK are welcome to attend the workshop on Friday. This is not relevant only to Justice & Emergency Services programme members. You can read more about the initiative and register to attend here.

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