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DHS and DOE launch Secure Freight Initiative
By Sergeant Aled Eynon
The North Wales Police (NWP) have implemented BlackBerry handheld technology as part of a visionary strategy to make Niche Technology’s Records Management System (RMS) available to all officers around the clock. The move created £190k of efficiency savings during 2006-07 with further gains of £718k attributed to the program in the Force Efficiency Plan for 2007-08—a welcome boost in the challenging financial climate faced by the UK police service today.
NWP’s 1,600 officers and 900 police staff have responsibility for policing a resident population of nearly 675,000—a number that increases substantially with tourists during the summer months. Our force covers a large rural area, including the mountainous Snowdonia National Park—a geography that has traditionally proved challenging for effective communication links.
We selected the Niche RMS system about five years ago because we saw it as a revolutionary approach to the challenge of information management in UK policing, especially considering its potential for mobile delivery and self-service. As the first of Niche RMS’ current UK customers, NWP has led the way in developing RMS functionality on this side of the Atlantic. We have achieved one of the widest deployments of Niche RMS in the country, with processes such as custody, intelligence, occurrences (crime and non-crime), warrants and case preparation exploiting the system. The RMS interfaces with our command and control (CAD) system as well as the national computer system used by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).
NWP’s top IT priorities are mobility and self-service, and our approach to mobile data has been driven by business benefits and a desire for systems to be accessible and easy to use by our front-line officers. We firmly believe that the decision to fundamentally transform our back office and data management functions using Niche RMS has made it significantly easier to subsequently navigate the mobility journey.
Working with Niche Technology and other partners, NWP set up a pilot project to deliver RMS functionality to a variety of devices, thereby enabling frontline officers to receive telephony and core operational systems via one device. Having experimented with devices such as PDAs and mobile data tablets fitted in vehicles, we failed to find what we considered to be a comprehensive solution providing the golden threads of simplicity, security and stability.
However, during trials, it became apparent that the latest BlackBerry devices overcame many of the challenges we had faced and did offer a secure and stable technical platform that allowed us to focus clearly on the creation and delivery of business benefits. Given this focus, we set about developing a sustainable and repeatable deployment model to deliver mobile data to front line staff.
The project is overseen by a program board that manages all IT projects, whose membership includes Chief Constable Richard Brunstrom and IMG Director Geoff Bradley. The project has a dedicated benefits realization accountant with responsibility for evidence-based definition, tracking and assessment of benefits as well as active user group representation to identify our force’s needs and drive future developments.
The pilot project, carried out with 300 users (mostly front-line officers), indicated clearly that access to relevant information via the device would lead to significant time savings per officer shift. Remote access to Niche RMS and e-mail resulted in notable increases in officers’ time out of the police station and therefore in the community, and enabled better use of otherwise “dead” time. We also found that there was an increase in the effectiveness of the RMS as an information management tool, simply because the system was accessible to officers at the “point of service.”
Tangible policing benefits also became quickly apparent. A detective sergeant making inquiries into a report of a rape obtained a suspect’s nickname from a witness. Following “on-the-street” Niche RMS enquiries on his mobile device, the full name and address of the suspect was swiftly obtained, enabling officers to go straight to the address and arrest the suspect. This not only saved valuable officer time but also ensured that vital evidence was preserved at the earliest opportunity given that the offense had only recently occurred.
In August 2006, positive results like this and a strong business case led to a decision to deploy devices to all front-line officers. To date, 600 NWP officers have been issued with devices, and the phased deployment program will see that number rise to more than 1,000 by the end of 2007.
As well as extensive query capabilities for Niche RMS, the devices provide access to e-mail, calendar, Police National Computer system (PNC), Police National Legal Database (PNLD) and useful Web browser-based applications such as the voters’ register (electoral roll) and operational briefing sheets.
We have received very positive feedback on our new developments throughout NWP, and we fully expect to see more benefits as the capability is provided to more front-line officers this year. A recent survey concluded that 91% of our users believed that the device was useful for operational policing, and 87% of them found mobile RMS easy to use.
Positive operational results continue to be demonstrated as well—a recent automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) team arrest typifies the key benefits of the system. The squad’s ability to use a mobile device to view a photograph stored on Niche RMS revealed that a female driver was not the innocent person she claimed to be but was actually a disqualified driver. Previously, officers would have had to return to the station with the suspect in order to verify her identity, or they may even have given her the benefit of the doubt and let her go.
A number of development projects are currently ongoing as we seek to build on the established platform and deliver further benefits. These projects include initiatives that will link devices to ANPR cameras and provide access to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency’s (DVLA) photo driving license database (this facility is currently on live trial in NWP). We are also in the process of developing an upgraded mobile RMS version that will allow users to “push” intelligence submissions and general occurrence reports directly to RMS.
We believe that the benefits delivered by NWP’s mobile access to RMS validate our original vision for the system. They also offer reassurance to the public, as the resulting improvements in police presence and performance increase the likelihood of crimes being detected and solved as swiftly as possible. Combining Niche RMS and a robust mobile data solution delivers information to operational staff where they need it most—on the street.
Sergeant Aled Eynon, a serving officer with North Wales Police, has played a leading role in the Niche Records Management System (RMS) Project from the outset. Accredited as a program / project manager, he currently leads the operational and business benefit aspect of the Information Management Group’s technololgy / change projects n
Published in Public Safety IT, Jan/Feb 2007
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