Police forces’ budgets across England and Wales have seen significant cuts recently, and according to the Home Office, UK police staff numbers have fallen to their lowest level since 2003.
The total number of full-time equivalent officers was 134,101 at the end of March 2012, a fall of 5,009 officers (3.6 per cent) compared to a year earlier.
Police forces rely heavily on IT, especially the ability to store, share and retrieve data on criminals, suspects and cases. We all know that IT equipment needs regular investment, so how concerned should we be that all forces south of the border are severely tightening their belts? Are we likely to see a critical failure of police IT systems in the near future?
A report from the Metropolitan Police Service released in March does little to assuage fears. It states that its IT is deteriorating and that the force needs to invest in new technology. According the Met, some of the technology it used to secure the recent Olympic Games was 20 years old.
Some investment is happening. A recent report by research firm TechMarketView predicted that the police will be the fastest-growing subsector within the UK public sector software and IT services market, with a compound annual growth rate of eight per cent between 2011 and 2015.
But TechMarketView director Georgina O’Toole points out that this is down to increased spending on outsourcing, rather than any major new investment in ICT equipment.
For example, Lincolnshire police force has outsourced services to G4S – despite the private security firm’s well-publicised troubles securing the Games – while Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire are considering joining the Lincolnshire-G4S framework to tackle their combined £73m shortfall in police funding.