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Information (and collaboration) is king for modern policing

Rob Lewis
Rob Lewis

Last month, in a highly coordinated and planned operation, more than 700 people were arrested and £400,000 worth of drugs confiscated in a week-long, UK-wide crack down on county lines gangs.

With 49 “deal lines” disrupted, 389 vulnerable adults and 292 children safeguarded, and over 150 weapons seized – including guns, swords and machetes – the operation was a great win for policing and everyone involved.

It was also a perfect example of why secure collaboration and information sharing are the foundations of modern policing, and why the work we’re doing here at the National Enabling Programmes (NEP) is set to bring big benefits.

Growing problem

“County lines”, which gets its name from the mobile phone numbers – or lines – that are used by criminal gangs to traffic drugs from urban to rural areas, has been a growing problem over recent years.

In 2015, there were seven forces reporting county lines behaviour. Today, all 43 police forces – along with British Transport Police – have recorded county lines behaviour in their region.

Children as young as seven are being used by county lines drug gangs

The county lines gangs use safe houses in smaller towns to support their operations in bigger cities, and often exploit young and vulnerable people by either taking over their homes – called “cuckooing” – or by employing them as drug couriers.

Last month’s operation tracked and monitored around 2,000 individual phone numbers used by these networks, over 650 addresses across the country and thousands of individuals.

Additionally, because of the operation, 41 people were flagged up to the national referral mechanism, which assesses potential victims of human trafficking and modern slavery.

It’s a mammoth task. And it’s a national problem that can only be effectively tackled by adopting a whole-system approach, with partners across the public health, education, social care and the charity sectors all working together in a trusted way.

And that’s where secure collaboration and information sharing is king, and where the work we’re doing with police forces has the potential to be big game changer.

A hub for collaboration

Teams, a pivotal element of the Microsoft 365 suite of applications that we’re rolling out across the 43 police forces in England and Wales, is the hub for collaboration that integrates people, content and tools that teams need to work together in a more engaged and effective way.

With It you can invite guests into online groups and provide the sharing and co-authoring of documents with high levels of security, which is an ideal solution for supporting multi-agency efforts in areas such as this.

It also provides the capacity for differential access within the Microsoft 365 suite, making it possible to impose controls that enable some people to read material and others to write to it, while at the same time preventing anyone from downloading or cutting & pasting from the documents.

This makes collaboration and information sharing in a multi-agency environment significantly more secure than the traditional emailing of information and reports. It also reduces the potential of accidental disclosure and data handling errors.

It’s been a big hit with the forces we’ve been talking to as they’ve seen the opportunities that Teams offers to improve, speed up and simplify the work they do.

Trusted access

The introduction of these productivity services, based on the Microsoft 365 suite, is just one step the NEP is taking to help police forces transform the way they securely and safely work and collaborate.

We’re also building the National Management Centre (NMC), a nationally-supported cyber security protection facility created specifically for policing that’s currently being rolled-out across police forces, and we’re implementing a nationally-supported Identity Access Management (IAM) service, to ensure the right individuals can securely access the resources and information they need, wherever they are.

Together these programmes are supporting the development of a new trust model for policing where it is presumed people are trustworthy and can therefore access information they need. You then monitor what they are doing with it and audit the process, and that way you keep an eye open for patterns that may suggest misuse or show weak spots in security.

It will make a big difference for policing. Getting swift access to the information officers need is a bugbear right across policing.

Cumbria Constabulary became the first force to go into live operation with the NMC and we now have 17 forces in live operation, with Cheshire Constabulary the latest to join on 20 November 2019. That’s over one-third of police forces already in live operation.

Better ways of working

Core to the work we’re implementing with forces is the identification of existing “as is” processes that could be transformed using applications from the Microsoft 365 suite, and then working through the methodology to deliver a better way of working that can be tested and tuned with each force, before being rolled out more widely.

These “use cases” of standardised or generic processes – everything from the handling of meetings, through frontline operations such as planning for major events, to mechanisms for multi-agency working – will then be shared in a catalogue that can be deployed by other forces using the common Microsoft 365 applications that they’ll have implemented.

We’ll be telling you more about these use cases and the progress we’re making in future posts.

Modern policing can only be delivered by the whole of policing working together collaboratively in the public interest. The work we’re doing across policing is paving the way.

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