In the Media

Police stay mired in paper war

PUBLISHED April 18, 2006

A ?228m computer system should free more bobbies for the beat, but funding has been blocked
A MULTIMILLION-POUND project to cut police paperwork and free officers for fighting crime is threatened with collapse because the Treasury is refusing to fund its full development.

The Treasury?s failure to hand over resources for the full introduction of the 
?228 million computer system in police stations has resulted in no equipment being bought or ordered for the past three months.

Des Browne, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, refused to provide further funds for the custody and case preparation project because he was unconvinced of the benefits to taxpayers.

His move is the latest blow for the troubled project, which is running years behind schedule and has suffered delays with software and continuing debate among police about whether it is necessary.

A failure to complete the custody and case preparation programme will be a serious embarrassment for the Home Office, which sees modern computer systems as a way of getting more police officers out of stations and on to the beat. The Treasury is unconvinced that the huge investment to provide police in England and Wales with paperless custody suites will produce financial benefits.

A document seen by The Times says: ?HM Treasury recently declined to release funding to criminal justice information technology for the Police Information Technology Organisation to complete implementation of the custody and case preparation programme. As a result, procurement activity in support of the programme ceased during February and the programme is now at some risk.?

The letter, written by John Burbeck, the Chief Constable of Warwickshire, said that the original business case for the programme had been based on potential rather than actual benefits. ?The Chief Secretary now requires the reporting of actual benefits and for them to be included in police efficiency plans. It is clear that a failure to meet this requirement will result in an absence of funds,? it added.

The custody and case preparation system is intended to cut paperwork in police stations, reduce the time taken to book and charge a suspect and ensure that records are accurate and legible. Other benefits include force-wide access to custody information, a reduction or even the elimination of pre-printed stationery and a cut in the amount of paper that has to be stored. There is an electronic link with the police national computer allowing future court dates, appearances, and bail details to be automatically updated on the computer.

But Charles Clarke?s plan to restructure the police service is leading some forces to question the wisdom of taking the system. Henry Cohen, a director of the project, gave a warning last year that the biggest issue was that forces were ?reconsidering implementation? as they looked at the Home Secretary?s merger plans.

His warning was the latest setback to the troubled programme. In December 2004 it was admitted that there were continuing delays with the software.

Although it was hoped to have the system in operation by 2004-05, the Police Information Technology Organisation admitted in that period that it had failed to meet a target of having the system in operational use in 20 forces.

The latest target for the system to be fully operational is March 2007 ? ten years after the first contract was signed.

Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said: ?The Government has had nearly nine years to sort out the tangle of different police computer systems.

?But there has been precious little leadership, and forces are still struggling to share basic information with each other and with the courts.?