I have spent over thirty years writing software and implementing computer systems to help organisations run more efficiently and provide good service to their users and customers. I know the impact that poor systems can have on morale and how they can prevent staff from focussing on their jobs. I also know how good systems can save money, create capacity and improve lives. I have a pragmatic view of technology - it has to work efficiently and provide clear benefits - as PFCC that means it has to help our Police and Fire & Rescue services to do their jobs better.
The Covid19 pandemic has shown the value of communication over the internet with social get together and medical consultations by video link, invitations to vaccination by email and millions of people managing to work from home. With effective mobile equipment our frontline teams don’t need to be at a desktop to make reports or receive new instructions they can do this in community settings or from a rapid response vehicle.
I am determined that our frontline Police and Fire & Rescue staff are fully equipped to protect us and reduce crime with as little risk to themselves as possible. This could mean more tasers, body cameras and tools like drones. In the hands of properly trained users tasers prevent violent incidents from escalating, reducing risk to the public, the perpetrator and officers. Body cameras provide evidence to support prosecution or protect staff from false accusations of improper behaviour. Drones can be effective in tracking criminals on the run or in scoping the extent and nature of a blaze before firefighters bravely enter a building.
Technology development never stops and costs are dropping, notably for mobile equipment that was previously only available in fixed form like CCTV. A good example of this is Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) which used to have to be fixed at road sides with expensive communication links to alert HQ when a suspect vehicle passed by. Now ANPR systems can be easily relocated and even carried in police vehicles meaning they can be quickly be moved to hotspots or on known getaway routes. It is often the case that when officers stop cars that are not insured or require an MOT they also find other evidence of other illegal activity. Using this kind of technology is a proven help in apprehending criminals and prevent further crime so I will investigate funding wider user of ANPR in Staffordshire.
The public use of low cost technology such as doorbell cameras and business CCTV can also assist investigations. I will invest in training so our services ready to take advantage of this while always ensuring due process and confidentiality. Dashcams in vehicles can provide evidence of dangerous driving or help investigators to understand the cause of a road accident perhaps leading to highways improvements, maybe prosecution but certainly helping victims struggling to come to terms with what has happened to them.
Many crimes, including cold cases, have been solved as a result of breakthroughs in DNA analysis and access to information on a national scale. I think more needs to be done however to ensure that local intelligence and information held by one force is available to others. Criminals should not be able to operate across force boundaries and exploit gaps due to incompatible systems. Part of my focus on working even more effectively with our neighbours will be to ensure that we share data to help us track criminals and disrupt illegal activity quickly and easily.
All of these technology based solutions have implications. Some for ways of working such as the need for police stations or collaboration with other organisations but the one I have struggled with most is balancing the potential benefits of facial recognition software with the risk to personal liberty. I don’t want to live in a surveillance state. I don’t think the general public going about their everyday business should be tracked or monitored but I have come to the conclusion that facial recognition technology that can identify dangerous individuals should be used to protect the public at events and in busy places. In the past manpower would have been used to scan the crowds so if we now have affordable systems that can do this better then we should take advantage of them but with vigorous oversight to ensure our rights are protected.
Criminals are using the latest technology to hack our computers, steal our cars without keys and exploit vulnerable people online. We need to equip and train our services to meet these threats head on.
And perhaps less exciting, but essential if our service personnel are to feel supported and can concentrate on their jobs, we need good administration and financial systems that are cost effective. Where this means sharing systems with other services, perhaps in other areas then I will support it.
Finally and crucially I want to take full advantage of social network channels, websites and email to gather intelligence from members of the public, inform them about local issues, feedback on their reports and let them know when their services have prevented crime, secured a successful prosecution or protected them. These channels need to work seamlessly with our 101 and 999 telephone service, which I plan to review, so that communication between you and your Police and Fire & Rescue services competes with the best in the country.