Private firm link for West Midlands Police will change face of force
It has been three years in the planning and West Midlands Chief Constable Chris Sims believes the force's tie-up with private consultancy firm Accenture is the face of 21st Century policing.
He said: "Never before have we taken on a project of this scale or magnitude. I hope it will establish a model that others would want to follow but my only concern is to get the best for the people of the West Midlands."
Accenture aims to revolutionise and streamline the way the force handles data, uses mobile and digital technology and interacts with social media and other organisations such as local authorities.
A core 30-strong team working with West Midland Police will be supplemented by the firm's experts in specific areas when needed.
The overall plan should be completed within six months and updated annually during the rolling programme that is expected to start producing its first changes early next year.
Part of the deal is that the force is able to operate the new systems without further help from Accenture at the end of the company's five year contract that has a breakpoint at the end of the first phase of work and an option to extend for a further three years.
The success of the venture – and the pay the company receives – will be judged against targets such as crime figures, public satisfaction, staff confidence, retraining and cost cuts.
Consultation intended to ensure the changes chime with the needs of both the police and public is due to start in September.
The Chief Constable insisted: "This is not just boffins and police officers in a dark room dreaming the dream. We want to listen to what our staff and the public want so that the model that eventually emerges is a joint enterprise."
He continued: "The problem is that our IT has been introduced in instalments. It is set up in different silos. There is one for incidents, one for crime and so on. There is integration but it is only very superficial and there are far cleverer ways of doing our job.
"We have been bad at grasping some of the opportunities that new technology offers. We have adopted new kit but not changed our working practices to maximise its use. There is no point in just putting the new kit out there. It is how you deal with it and use it to get rid of redundant information. Accenture have the expertise to ensure we do that in future."
For example automatic facial recognition techniques might be further developed to enable a CCTV camera to immediately recognise a face in the crowd as that of a missing person. This could then be sent to a mobile device carried by a patrolling police officer in the area with a map reference to the exact location creating major changes to the way missing person inquiries were handled in future.
Accenture already has experience of working with police forces in North America, the Far East and Europe but has not had a contract like this before.
Mark Lyons, Managing Director for the company's Health and Public Service business in the UK and Ireland, commented: "We are being given an opportunity to bring a wide variety of technology skills to the work process. There is going to be a lot of change and so we need some quick wins to show people the value of what we are doing as quickly as possible. We would hope to be implementing the first of the changes within six months."
He vowed: "New streamlined processes and the greater use of technology across the force will allow officers to minimize time spent in the office and maximize time spent on the streets, engaging with the public to fight crime and combat anti-social behaviour."
Acting Police and Crime Commissioner Yvonne Mosquito said: "Our police officers and staff need the expertise that Accenture can bring in order to protect the future delivery of policing in a continued time of budgetary decline. I fully support this ambitious and vital programme."
West Midlands police is dubbing the ground breaking partnership a once in a generation opportunity to re-think policing. It will provide a blueprint for how the force will operate in 2020.
The force explained: "The aim is to transform the way information is shared to provide a better service and protection for communities, develop joint delivery models with key local partners, provide wider choice in how people can access the police and support officers by giving them better access to technology."
Among systems planned are one where people will be able to report crimes online and track the progress of cases electronically. The force and Accenture are also considering introducing new mobile devices to help officers spend more time on the street.