Who’s stuffing the bird?

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No, it’s not some smutty quandary posed to address the outcome of a forthcoming office Christmas party however, it is a question that requires an urgent answer…

I’ve always had an interest in communications and Information technology, since the early 1980s it’s formed a large part of my life. Because of that involvement, it’s hardly surprising the subject has also pissed me off from time to time, especially in the working environment.

In addition to using police radio systems for thirty years, since the days of the Pye Pocketphone and Burndept BE470, I was also military signals instructor during the Clansman Radio era. I’m a licensed radio ham and have had mobile phones since before they were even available as portable bricks. I’ve had a personal computer since the days of the ZX Spectrum although I’ve never been one for computer games. I worked for some time in the police command centre and I had substantial involvement in the role out of Airwave Radio to UK emergency services. In short, I’m fairly knowledgable about communications technology although I expect there will be some who would consign me to the geek box.

One thing that always caused me frustration was; the extraordinary problems involved with Home Office Type Approval processes. A factor that usually introduced unnecessary delays and, prevented the service from being able to take full advantage of cutting edge technology. This was often compounded by the police service using high-ranking police officers, often without any technical ability and/or limited and outdated operational experience, to make system decisions and recommendations. Hence the reason I was still using systems from the 1960s/70s well into the late 1980s.

The Airwave radio system, which utilises a technology called Terrestrial Trunked Radio (TETRA), is the latest case in point. TETRA was first developed in the 1980s, it received the ETSI standard in 1995 and the system began roll out to British police in 2000. Despite all the system capabilities and operational plus points, we are still not exploiting all the advantages fully. Indeed, many forces are suddenly realising to their cost, they can’t try to use modern systems in the same way they did 20-30yrs ago.

dailymail.co.uk: Police officers are being ordered to send texts rather than speak on their radios because of the sums charged by the firm that owns the police communications network. While chief constables face unprecedented cutbacks, the company that operates the system on which all the emergency services communicate has seen a massive rise in profits. Last year Airwave Solutions’ profit margin outstripped even that of mobile-phone giant Vodafone”. (Read more)

In this day and age, as the technology and infrastructure is available, there is absolutely no reason why every police officer in the country can’t have mobile data terminals (MDT) in their patrol cars. They should also have Personal Digital Assistants (PDA) available for use whilst on patrol. This isn’t just a case of technology for the sake of it, there is in fact a pressing operational and financial reason. It would also prove vastly advantageous in improving the police visibility on our streets.

Historically, the police service doesn’t have all that good a record for successful and expedient adoption of new technology or indeed, for fully exploiting all the operational advantages. Much of this can be attributed to the short-sighted vision of senior police managers, people who tend to make decisions based upon their own needs and impacts, as opposed to the service in general. It is therefore hardly surprising that some police forces are facing problems with how best to utilise Social Media platforms in their toolkits. Perhaps they need some advice…

Gagged & Caged – Strategic RISK Magazine – Oct 2010: “The likes of Facebook and Twitter have created new ways for businesses to connect with their customers. Now they must learn to use these social media platforms while not ignoring the reputation risks they pose”. (Read more)

Some forces have shown vision and drive, take the GMP Twitter experiment as an example however; many have simply locked down the use of these tools by their staff, effectively putting them in the ‘too hard to deal with’ file. Probably because they just don’t understand (or want to understand) their operational value. Another example of management failing to grasp the opportunity but it doesn’t have to be that way.

The general ineptitude for visionary management, the self-interest of many senior officers, the constant reinvention of the wheel and general failure to embrace operational advantages in new technology, have all led to the financial crisis faced by today’s police service. And all this before you even consider the adverse impacts of governmental and political interference that has gone on for years.

As recently as this week even Greater Manchester Police (GMP), who can be considered as one of the more forward thinking police forces, are announcing massive cuts to establishment. Whilst we continue to hear (almost daily) about cash strapped forces and their proposed redundancies, we still have ACPO officers pocketing five figure bonus payments. Chiefs laughing all the way to the bank? You bet, ask Northumbria’s Acting Chief Constable Sue Sim with her recent £33,000.00 bonus payment.

Perhaps the public are actually starting to see who’s doing the stuffing and, maybe we can also live in hope that the ‘turkeys who don’t vote for Christmas’ are finally stuffing themselves?

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