Examination of Witnesses (Questions 580
TUESDAY 10 JUNE 2008
Q580 Gwyn Prosser: Especially in
these days of the terrorist threat.
Chief Constable Johnston: Indeed,
yes. I think it is anomalous.
Q581 Bob Russell: Inspector Hitch,
can you quantify the benefits in Bedfordshire of using mobile
Inspector Hitch: Yes, we worked
very closely with the NPIA towards the end of last year to do
an informed business benefits analysis, and I think we are the
only force that have taken it to the level we took it to. It is
always difficult, business benefits, because we talk about driving
out the benefits but it really depends on how much it costs to
deliver them in the first place. I was interested in the figures
from Charmaine who was talking earlier. Her figures were about
the same as ours. We have £270 per officer per year for the
BlackBerry system, but I know that some forces are spending five
or more times that. Clearly, if I get the benefit of £270
per officer and they get the same benefits by spending five times
the money, then clearly the business case does not stack up for
them as much as it does for us. The results of the analysis were
quite interesting. To come back to your original point, I have
got a number of graphs which I would love to be able to show you
because they are absolutely fascinating.
Q582 Chairman: Would you send us
the graphs. Just summarise it.
Inspector Hitch: I can do, yes.
This was an NPIA report, so it is nothing to do with me, so I
have not doctored the figures in any way, although I have brought
in mobile data, so I have a bit of a vested interest if I want
to progress my police career. The bottom line is we were facing
a big problem in Bedfordshire with officers spending time on station,
and the trend was upwards, and it had been for a number of years,
and it peaked at 46% officer time spent on the station, which
is enormous, is it not? I was horrified by those figures, I have
to say. After we introduced these devices, that fell very quickly
to 36%, and it has held at 36%. These are from the activity-based
costing figures that we have to do for the Home Office, so the
officers are surveyed. We used to do it as time and motion studies,
but every force has to conduct these. So I cannot actually say,
yes, for sure, it is the devices, but it seems a remarkable coincidence,
and there was nothing else in the organisation that we were doing
at that time that would make me think it could be anything else.
That is the "in station" time. The other one is "visible
patrol" time, which went up from 14%. Currently it is 19%.
So it is not a huge increase, but actually if we looked to how
many officers we would need extra to do that, it would be an awful
lot of officers and an awful lot of money. The final one is the
time the officers spend dealing with incidents. Again, the trend
had been downwards, and 18% of officer time was spent dealing
with incidents. That is now going up and it is rising steadily.
It is currently at 26%. So there is quite a lot of data now that
we are getting together. I go back to what Mr Bobbett was saying,
because he put it quite well. It is really difficult to prove
some of these things. Instinctively you know they are right, but
to quantify them and to actually put figures on them is quite
difficult. For example, the Airwave network is encrypted. Before
we had the Airwaves network criminals could listen into our radio
system at will, and there were cases where they actually despatched
officers to the other side of town while they would go about their
business. That does not happen now with Airwave, with an encrypted
network. How do we quantify that? It is really difficult to do.
Q583 Bob Russell: Inspector Hitch,
Bedfordshire Police is one of the small police forces.
Inspector Hitch: Yes.
Q584 Bob Russell: Are you the pace-setters
in this and how do you explain the fact that another police force,
unnamed, are costing five times greater than Bedfordshire?
Inspector Hitch: To be honest,
we were all learning together. If we go back to when I started
this projectit was two and a half years agomy police
authority had the foresight to set aside some money, which was
really good, and we got some money from the NPIA as well, but
all forces were doing different things. To be honest, had we centralised
at that point and, for example, the NPIA said this is the way
we are going to do it, I think we would have missed a trick: because
we have learnt and we have actually found out that some things
are a lot more expensive than others.
Q585 Bob Russell: Thank you for the
Bedfordshire success story. Perhaps the committee ought to look
at the other force, unnamed, for comparison. Chief Constable,
it is good to see that British Transport Police are on-line, although
we are aware that technology can have the potential to hinder
as well as to help officers, and I guess this is the reason why
I have been given this question, as the most technology challenged
member of the committee! Can you elaborate on the down sides of
technology and how this can be mitigated, and if I can just put
a special pleading in here that the digits on the human hand are
not altering yet the keypads seem to be getting smaller all the
Chief Constable Johnston: I think
this is essentially a "management has changed" issue
which is not limited to the world of technology, but to make it
specific around the mobile data for example, there were issues
for us around battery life, and if the batteries went down you
had to reboot the system, and we had to solve the battery problem
for people. Officers did have some concerns about writing, with
some technology in their hands, whilst they were dealing with
a suspect, whereas they were much more comfortable with a notebook,
and I think that is an issue about getting comfortable with your
terminal which I think experience shows that you will do. I think
there are problems for officers around the amount of kit we want
them to carry around todaythey are walking around a bit
like a Christmas treeand we have given them actually vests
with pockets in them which balance the weight over their bodies
to deal with those things. There is something about how do you
encourage people to pick up on this technology, and we have introduced
what we call "super users", who are people who have
a solid reputation and who demonstrate to their colleagues that
these things work really well, and they trust their colleagues
and they trust hearing from them and they pick up on these things.
So I think there are some things around accustomising officers
to the kit, about when they can do this stop-check, when they
get this information out of the system immediately which leads
to an arrest, it is those sort of successes which get officers
to overcome their technophobia.
Q586 Margaret Moran: All of the learning
we have from IT projects, be they very large centralised ones
or otherwise, is that the greatest benefit comes from, if you
like, systems reconfigurationit is not just the technology,
it is the way you deploy your people. What has happened in that
respect in either of the examples that you are giving?
Chief Constable Johnston: I think
the systems reconfiguration bit, for me, is around the fact that
you can actually directly access these systems and you transfer
data automatically from one to another, so you are not doing it
five timesyou are doing it once. An officer going to an
incident can be sent there on mobile data, so no writing down
of details, and, when he gets there
Q587 Margaret Moran: Can I just clarify?
I am talking about the way in which you deploy your resources,
be they manpower or other, as much as the technology itself.
Chief Constable Johnston: The
big difference is we have an extra hour out on the streets (or
51 minutes is what our research showed), which is at our disposal.
The systems reconfiguration bit, for me, around that is making
sure that we capture that and making sure that officers do stay
out and we do get the use of that 51 minutes in terms of extra
visibility, rather than simply continuing with old habits and
coming back to the station and taking rather more time to do things.
So that is the sort of systems reconfiguration; it is about joining
up data so there is not duplication, and it is about redeploying
the savings that we get from the system.
Inspector Hitch: We have got one
system, which is the crime recording system for Bedfordshire,
that is available now on the BlackBerry. What officers were doing
previously was having to find a desktop terminal, print off their
inquiries for the day, effectively (so it would be: "Go to
a burglary, take a statement", and so on and so forth), and
once they had done that they were coming back and updating the
computer system. It was time spent forwards, backwards and all
the rest of it. Now they have a BlackBerry they can do that; they
can get the job from the BlackBerry, find out what they need to
do, do the job, and update it sitting outside the person's house
or inside the person's house in front of them. So that process
has completely changed the way we do our business. However, I
have to say (I come back to Mr Russell's point), officers do not
change as quick as technology, and it is getting people to use
it and change their working practices that we put an enormous
amount of effort into, but I do not think you can ever put too
much effort into it. We have still got people who really do not
want to use it, and are more comfortable doing it the old way.
We need a lot more focus on that, going forward.
Q588 David Davies: Chief Constable,
do you share the concerns we heard earlier on about the Airwave
system? Would you agree that 75% of stations are covered?
Chief Constable Johnston: Yes.
Obviously, they will all get covered in due course and the only
anxiety I have around it is the sense that the station programme
is around engineering priorities rather than around operational
priorities. So they get done, very sensibly, in a business sense,
alongside other work that is being done around signalling and
the like, but of course it does mean that some of the more important
places are not getting covered as quickly as we might like.
Q589 David Davies: Can I just ask,
are you getting any extra funding for the Olympics? Obviously,
the British Transport Police are going to be playing a very prominent
role in that.
Chief Constable Johnston: The
Department for Transport, for the CSR period up to 2011, have
agreed to fund our additional costs to a figure that we are negotiating
Q590 David Davies: Lastly, if the
Chairman will allow me, can I congratulate you on the big reductions
in knife crime on the Tube, which do not seem to have been reflected
elsewhere in the country?
Chief Constable Johnston: It is
very interesting. On the technology front, there is a lot of debate
about the effectiveness of these knife arches, but we can show
a very close correlation between the growth in knife crime, the
introduction of our knife arches and a decline in knife crime.
Knife-enabled crime in London at its peak on our transport system
was running at about 70 a month and currently it runs at about
20 a month. So that is a massive reduction. Obviously, other things
have happened alongside thatwe have had additional resources
in other respectsbut this, I think, has made a very significant
difference. Again, back to the points made earlier on about alcohol,
it sends out a very clear message about what we will accept and
what we will not accept.
Q591 Ms Buck: You will be familiar,
Chief Constable, with the phrase "Computer says `No'".
To what extent do you experience problems with technology either
malfunctioning or (and I think we have had some representations
and evidence to the Committee on this) technology simply not being
fit for the purpose that it is applied to? I think one of the
examples quoted to us was the amount of time officers can spend
trying to run CCTV images which then are not compatible with other
forms of technology. From an operational point of view, to what
extent are there problems with technology breakdowns and technology
Inspector Hitch: From the point
of view of the BlackBerries, I have to say they are amazingly
reliable. We have 1200 devices, we have had 19 replaced under
warranty and 29 have been broken or damaged through our own faulteither
run over or, in one case, a police dog ate one. The actual devices
and the system, the network, are very reliable.
Q592 Ms Buck: What happened to it?
Inspector Hitch: The dog? I think
it is okay. The BlackBerry system is very reliable. It is a commercial
network; if it does not work then somebody does not get paid,
somewhere along the line. There is that sort of pressure on it,
which I think is really good. We are a tiny user; some of the
companies that I have been to user group meetings with have 30,000-plus
devices. There are 14 million of these things worldwidethey
work and they are very effective. I am a strong proponent that
we should be using things designed for the private sector and
just adapting them to our needs rather than having a grand plan
and trying to build them from scratch with public money. Breakdowns
we do not get a lot of; users are the issue. Users are the absolute
key. Their fingers are not getting any smaller and the technology
gets quicker. It is a mistake to give them too much at one time;
it is better to grow it gradually, organically, and add things
Q593 Ms Buck: So if we can just replace
the people we would be all right?
Inspector Hitch: Would that not
be nicein some cases! It is an ongoing issue. I urge all
forces to spend more time with their users. Charmaine was talking
about half-a-day's training. We did more than that, and I think
to do it properly you do need to do more than that; you need refreshers
and you need either super-users or people to come in and re-educate.
Q594 Ms Buck: Extending that same
argument, there is always a tension, is there not, between the
national roll-outthe "big bang" day and the introduction
of common systems in all parts of the countryand those
constraints, particularly the human constraints, in terms of skills,
training and resources and the possibility of things going wrong,
and the fact that, as we know and heard earlier, there are different
kinds of operational demands on the transport system or in an
inner urban environment to a quiet, rural environment. What is
your view about the pros and cons, really, of going for the advantages
of uniform systems versus the disadvantage of "big bang"
days and all those risks?
Inspector Hitch: I think we have
to remember that the best ideas do not come from the centre; the
best ideas come from the people actually using the devices. We
have made a number of changes to our system purely as a result
of what the users have asked for and said. I have not sat, as
a project manager, and come up with all the answers because I
do not know all the answers to policing, and I think it is a mistake
to centralise it and to have everybody doing exactly the same.
There are different requirements in different parts of the country.
For example, in parts of Scotland the Airwave coverage is the
only coverage; there is hardly any mobile "phone" coverage
in the Highlands. Airways is the only thing that can be used,
whereas here mobile "phone" coverage is absolutely superb
and there is no problem in using it.
Q595 Ms Buck: That is a common fault
and I understand that, but it is a bit of a cop-out as well, though,
is it not, because the next minute we are hearing from you, understandablyor
perhaps we are pressing youabout all the difficulties that
arise when officers cannot talk to each other.
Inspector Hitch: I think it is
important you can talk to your own systems, but actually I think
there needs to be retained some of the element of if we want to
make a change to the system we can do it fairly quickly. Making
a local change to Airwave is impossible; it is a complete, centralised
system. Airwave works really well. I am a frontline police officer
now; I am an Inspector at Luton, and Airwave works in Luton very
well. However, if I wanted to make an individual tweak or change
to that system, as I would do with mobile data, because I might
want access to information specific to Luton, if it is a national
system I can have real problems doing that. I like the idea of
a national system, as long as it is one that is cost-effective.
I just do not like the idea of spending loads and loads of money.
Q596 Ms Buck: I do not think we will
have the magic answer to that one.
Chief Constable Johnston: Echoing
Jim's point there, if you have an established set of processes,
like we have with radios and how we use radios, and we are familiar
with that, we understand it and we have a shared ambition around
it, then I think the national roll-out is important. Also, radios'
interoperability is very, very important. So a single approach
to radios is very, very important. When you are into the new sort
of technology stuff, where we are really trying out new ideas
about how do we use mobile data, I think giving some freedom at
the front end, as Jim says, so that the people using the kit can
have some influence over our destiny, is a really important part
of the way we do business here.
Inspector Hitch: It is still very
Chairman: Margaret Moran had a supplementary
Q597 Margaret Moran: It was really
the point about the "big bang" approach versus the individually
tailored solutions. How adaptable do you think either of those
two options are? It is the point I referred to earlier on. We
can have BlackBerries today but the next generation technology
will be with us next month. How do we make sure that we genuinely
are ready for that technology?
Chief Constable Johnston: At the
moment we have two real choices of the platform to do this, obviously:
the Airwave platform or mobile "phone" technology as
a platform. With Airwave we have the route there to a common approach
and that is the route down which we go, but I think the Airwave
front end bit is significantly inferior to the other facilities
that we are currently using on mobile "phones". When
the new mobile "phone" technology comes along, I think
the ability to switch into that is going to be important because
it will give us greater band width and it will give us the ability
to get photos on the system. However, in terms of interoperability,
the important thing for the individual officer on the street is
to get back on to all of these systems back at the ranch, which
they can do regardless, in a sense, of the platform. It is whether
you have the software which links you into it which is the important
Inspector Hitch: There is always
a risk with technology of buying something and it going out of
date very quickly. That is less likely to happen with a platform
such as BlackBerry because they have to change or they go out
of business, whereas if we have an artificially created state
system they do not go out of business. With mobile data I think
if we do not change quickly enough then things can easily develop
and we will not be able to use them.
Chief Constable Johnston: There
is a point around Airwave where we have the creation of a monopoly
Q598 Mrs Dean: Do you agree with
Airwave Solutions' assessment that the rushed way in which additional
capital funding was recently made available for mobile information
initiatives did not allow forces to undertake the depth of research
needed to ensure the best fit with longer-term strategic requirements?
Chief Constable Johnston: We have
been speaking to Airwave since about 2005 around mobile data and
its uses to the Police Service. If I am being brutally honest,
I do not think they showed a very high level of interest in it.
So this debate has been around a long while; this has not just
come across us. All of us, I think, have had plenty of time to
think about it. The roll-out programme itself takes a number of
months. We were talking about mobile data this time last year
and now it comes on to the agenda to be delivered. So I think
a number of months have gone by for us to work out what we would
like to do. I do not think I would share their perspective on
that at all. The other suppliers have shown fleet of foot, and
I think forces have been able to cope with the opportunities that
have been presented to them.
Q599 Mrs Dean: Do you agree with
Inspector Hitch: I was disappointed
that Mr Bobbett did not get asked the question how much would
his solution cost, because I think he would be a lot, lot more
expensive than that. For what extra it would offer, if anything,
I am not a great fan of going that route. That is a personal view.