by Simon Clifford, Director of Technology and Digital Transformation at Northamptonshire’s Office of Police and Crime Commissioner and Data Sharing Lead – County ECINS Board
Northamptonshire is fully committed to data sharing with its partners to reduce harm and increase public safety. It uses ECINS as a strategic platform to support this, and would welcome its wider adoption nationally. In Northamptonshire, Police, County, Borough and District Councils work in partnership with multiple agencies and organisations to support better outcomes.
Since 2013 the use of ECINS within Northamptonshire Police has grown organically and now includes over 75 different organisations.
The cloud-based system is enabling case management and facilitating multi-agency working through the secure sharing of information between partner organisations in a range of business areas including Anti-Social Behaviour, Smoking in Vehicles Enforcement (Pilot), Integrated Offender Management, Rehabilitation – Project Redemption, Restorative Justice, Community Sentences for Women, Hate Crime, Domestic Abuse, Gangs and Gang Violence, Rough Sleepers, Street Drinkers/ Community, Licensed Premises, Football Policing, Safer Communities, Rural Crime Team, Scrap Metal Dealers, Fire Setters – Arson Task Force and Child Sexual Exploitation.
Historically, the role of technology in policing was fundamentally about providing point solutions. Times and expectations change however and technology and innovation is moving at an accelerated pace. This has led to an unfortunate situation where many of us have ended up with a mish mash of systems that are quickly out of date or don’t talk or work well together. This is not just a situation limited to police forces, it is a universal problem that is impacting organisations on a global level.
Some of the strategic challenges we face have been effectively addressed by using ECINS and its use is expanding. Police, the Criminal Justice System, PCC’s and their partners must work together to deliver the pace of change we need and expect in problem solving and ECINS is simply enabling us to do that.
As a cloud-based system it is quite easy to get a point solution up and running on ECINS for a relatively low cost. This means it doesn’t hit senior budget holders and it doesn’t affect other systems because it isn’t there to replace legacy systems unless you want it to. It therefore slips in under the radar and solves a range of problems by ‘opening up’ a secure channel for partners to provide multi-agency solutions.
As Director of Technology and Digital Transformation my aim is to deliver improved service and public safety by closer collaboration, shared insight & continuous improvement through marginal gains. My challenge is to achieve this by improving the platforms that we have in Northamptonshire and to reduce their complexity. Complexity of systems can add a lot of unnecessary cost, as can the cost of maintaining a number of unrelated systems that are not being used effectively or efficiently. We are on a journey to rationalise our systems like ECINS delivers both greater value and ultimately better outcomes.
Working Better Together
There is an increased requirement for everyone to work better together which can be quite a difficult task in a challenging landscape where pressure mounts from reduced funding.
ECINS was already supporting good data sharing and multi-agency work however it had lots of untapped potential. It provided opportunities in other areas where it could deliver new technology in a streamlined way. It is well aligned to our strategic objectives and quite simply if we did not already have ECINS we would have had to create it.
Benefits of being a Strategic Platform
Escalating ECINS to the role of ‘Strategic Platform’ grants it a credential that means officers at a strategic level, not just practitioner level, have an interest in ensuring it is fit for purpose for the long term. Becoming a Strategic Platform meant the system has to be continuously reviewed with regard to security and information governance considerations. Having passed this test, its strategic role could be confirmed enabling longer term funding and strategic placement within the IT landscape as a core system. This helps to engage partners who know that it is here to stay for the long term and worth their investment in time, training and resources.
Are there any risks?
Nothing comes without risk but you need to effectively weigh up any risks with the benefits and the benefits derived from data sharing are widely documented. The importance is about ensuring the levels of control are correct and appropriate. If you are sharing with an agency who might misuse that information then that is a risk you need to consider and you need to monitor and review that risk on an ongoing basis.
You also need to consider the professionalism of the organisations that you are sharing your data with. This can vary enormously and you need to have a quality assurance process in place to address this. We do recognise the danger of an agency wanting to sign up to an ECINS partnership purely as a tick boxing exercise to evidence that they believe in data sharing but then do not use it effectively. To reduce the risk of this scenario we have quality assurances in place.
Quality Assurance and Partner Engagement
Making sure the agencies you have chosen to work with are committed and properly invest their time, effort and resources is absolutely central to the success of any partnership. For some smaller organisations cost can be a considerable barrier to whether they can be involved in a partnership but in Northamptonshire we do allow some organisations to access the system at no charge.
This does not however mean that there is no cost! The cost to them is that they need to engage properly and we have adopted a role of Data sharing Manager who’s responsibility is to drive quality assurance and act as a conduit for partners, ensuring they share appropriately, adhere to the right quality controls and internal processes.
The Data Manager will monitor partner’s effective use of the system and if they do not use the system in the appropriate way they will be withdrawn from the partnership as an ultimate sanction. There is a huge benefit for everyone if agencies share information in the right way and the Data Manager can have the conversations with organisations to provide a better flow of information and to help build the platform to make it more effective for everyone.
Tying up systems in Information Sharing Agreements
It’s important to remember that data sharing is a journey, not a destination and that ECINS is part of the solution. One of the biggest mistakes partnerships can make is when they are too specific in their ISAs. Example: You have a point solution such as ASB and you want to share ASB data with the Police and the County. You have an ISO and you name ECINS as the data sharing system you will use to share data on ASB. This is not a recommended approach as ECINS is a system that can expand out and provide solutions for a plethora of applications and areas of business. By tying ECINS into the ISO you create a requirement to keep revisiting the data sharing agreement every time you want to move your use of the system beyond that use base i.e. ASB.
Data sharing is not about a system, it’s about recognising that data sharing is part of a journey for which an appropriate tool is needed and sometimes the appropriate tool is an application that connects to other organisations – you do not need to specify a name for that system!
The role of technology in policing
Times are changing and so is crime. Traditional forms of crime have been digitised, crimes using technology pose new threats in all areas and there are now complex crimes that would not exist without the internet. Almost half of crime today relies on digital technology.
Law-enforcement agencies are seeking ways to respond and technology has a crucial role to play in this. The Reform paper Bobbies on the Net states that although technology poses new threats, it also offers solutions. Predictive analytics have helped police intercept and prevent crime. The introduction of new technology has improved productivity. Body-worn cameras have prevented escalations of violence around police officers. Smartphones provide officers with information on the beat. Police now need the next generation of this technology to meet crime. Body-worn cameras can recognise criminals and missing people automatically. Smartphones can collect fingerprints from crime scenes. Digital evidence portals will allow victims to upload Mobile phone and CCTV footage. Forces need to overcome barriers to make these approaches the norm. There are examples of siloed legacy IT systems but this is changing.
In Northamptonshire we have over hundreds of applications but only a handful of these fall into the category of strategic platforms.
The role of policing and how we serve and protect the public is changing very quickly. There is a fundamental shift from where we were 10 years ago and every individual and organisation who has a role in safeguarding people have to get much smarter. Police, CPS, Courts, Criminal Justice, Early Intervention – all need to work together to reduce crime from happening and they need to choose a toolset that enables them to respond quickly.
As a cloud-based system ECINS can be turned on, introduced, implemented and rolled out quickly, easily and at good value for money – it doesn’t get better than that really.