More than four in five officers and other employees of Greater Manchester Police have now been equipped with Samsung Galaxy J5 smartphones Credit: PA
“Most police officers join to help people and to be part of the community,” says Phil Davies, chief superintendent of information services transformation at Greater Manchester Police (GMP).
He adds: “Unlike a number of police forces in the world, we police by consent in this country – we are not routinely armed. We need to be seen as part of the community.”
Such visibility in the communities they police has, Davies says, become much easier for officers since GMP deployed a fleet of mobile devices across the vast majority of its force last year. More than 80% of officers are now kitted out with Samsung Galaxy J5 smartphones and, in many cases, Galaxy Tab tablets as well.
The devices are all equipped with a specialist platform, called the Operational Policing Tool and Information Kit (OPTIK), which was developed by software and outsourcing giant HCL.
The OPTIK tool contains a range of applications that allow officers to perform a number of their duties remotely, rather than having to return to the office to do them. The smartphones and tablets can be used to carry out searches of GMP and national police databases for information on people, vehicles, and incidents, as well as filing or updating incident reports and registering people as missing.
Officers can also use the technology to take witness statements and report stop-and-search procedures. They can get an overview of trends in their area by superimposing crimes and other incidents onto a map.
Davies claims that, since the rollout last November, the time savings afforded by the technology equate to 1,000 eight-hour shifts.
I have been in the organisation for 20 years and we have always been playing catch-up with technology
“We are saving thousands of hours a month on travel because officers can be out in the community longer,” he says. “This is one of a number of projects that we are pushing as behaviour-change projects.”
Davies adds: “The use of technology by police officers is an officer-led thing, not led by the corporate IT department, as it would have been in the past. It is about police officers [telling us] what they need to get the job done.”
Business or pleasure?
Something that Davies says is unique to GMP is that officers’ smartphones can be used for both work and personal business.
“We wanted officers to look after the kit,” he says. “We have a work side and a personal side for the device, and we are the only force in the UK that has done that.”
He adds: “It is their device to look after. If they want to take it home, they can do.”
When the device is switched on, officers can log in to what is, effectively, a standard Android smartphone, on which they can install the likes of WhatsApp, Facebook, and other consumer apps, Davies says. To switch to the OPTIK platform, “there is one button that is a portal into the secure side of the device”.
When asked whether many officers use the phone as their main personal device, Davies says that “they are perfectly entitled to do so if they wish”.
To ensure that the mix of personal and police usage does not pose a data-security risk, GMP has put in place preventive technologies and rules.
“We need a comprehensive [security platform], and personal data does not sit on the device,” Davies says. “We trained our officers on data-protection and appropriate use… and we have also set an appropriate-use policy, based around a system of trust. Not a single officer has yet been prosecuted by our professional standards department for inappropriate use.”
The deployment of the tablets and smartphones is the first step in a journey to embrace mobile technology more widely, according to Davies (pictured left).
“We are firmly in the process of building on it, and reducing our reliance on desktop machines,” he says. “There are also all manner of forms and processes that did not make the first cut [of apps featured on OPTIK] that could be in the second cut.”
The technology skills of the police force have come into sharper focus in recent months, with the UK suffering several high-profile and disruptive cyberattacks – most notably WannaCry, in May. A recent report from think tank Reform also suggested that officers lacking the necessary IT skills should face the risk of losing their job.
“I have been in the organisation for 20 years. I have been into technology for longer than 20 years, and we have always played catch-up,” Davies says. “We need to be in a position going forward where everyone who works for GMP needs those skills.”