Of the UK’s 43 regional police forces, only one was rated ‘outstanding’ last year by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) for its ability to investigate crime: Durham Constabulary.
Head of ICT Stuart Grainger puts that down, in part, to efforts made in recent years to give police officers a clearer picture of the data that the force holds.
Instead of continuing to rely on them to search multiple different systems in their investigations, he’s established a more joined-up approach, which uses Microsoft Dynamics CRM as the platform for new, custom-built applications to handle day-to-day policing needs. The resulting system is called ‘Red Sigma’ by Durham Constabulary.
So why this particular approach? For most organisations, after all, the ‘C’ in CRM stands for ‘customer’. For Durham Constabulary, it could refer to a criminal or their victim. It could be a suspect or a witness. It could be a missing person, or it could be a vulnerable child, judged by social workers to be ‘at risk’.
In other words, Durham Constabulary’s work means it deals with many different types of people and juggles many different types of relationship. The data it is required to manage, meanwhile, reflects that diversity.
That’s why the term xRM, sometimes used by Microsoft executives and the company’s vast network of implementation partners, strikes a chord with Grainger. Here, the ‘x’ can stand for ‘extended’ – as in extended relationship management, indicating a type of relationship outside of the typical buyer of goods and/or services. Or, it can simply indicate a variable, where the word ‘customer’ can be replaced by another term (for example, ‘criminal’, ‘constituent’, ‘agent’, and so on.) Either way, xRM is used to refer to the practice of building industry- or even organisation-specific applications using Microsoft Dynamics CRM as the core underlying platform.
That makes a lot of sense to Grainger. He and his in-house IT team already have significant development skills around Microsoft technologies such as the .Net Framework. What they don’t have, he says, is much time or money to spend on developing systems entirely from scratch: in recent years, IT team numbers have fallen from around 60 to 40 and the annual budget has been reduced significantly.
The constraints that we face mean that developing a bespoke system by ourselves would be problematic: it would cost too much and take too long. So we identified Microsoft Dynamics CRM as being able to provide lots of the features and functions we’d need for our own custom applications: security, workflow, auditing, administration, reporting, integration – all kinds of things.
We saw that we could use these services as the building blocks of our own development, so that we could focus instead on user experience and on giving police officers an easy-to-use system.
Using Red Sigma to consolidate the force’s once-siloed crime, intelligence and other systems is a work in progress, Grainger says.
Around April last year, we implemented Intelligence, which has a lot of core functions around people, vehicle and locations. We’ve also built on that for duplicate detection, to avoid the data-quality problems of the past, and we’ve integrated with the DVLA [Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency] so that fields relating to vehicle manufacturer and model can be pre-populated and officers immediately see whether a vehicle’s insured or not.
In July, they added applications for Safeguarding, which deals with police work relating to domestic abuse and vulnerable adults and children. There are applications on their way dealing with threatening behaviour and reporting of ‘stop and account’ incidents. In Crime, meanwhile, they’ve just released amendments around tasking – ‘next steps’ that police officers must take – as well as notification functions that remind them to take these steps. Says Grainger:
What we like about the approach we’ve taken is that the ways that data is entered into Crime and into Intelligence are exactly the same. Relationships are built in exactly the same ways. And we’ve got easy integration with Microsoft SharePoint, for example, for unstructured data – stuff like CCTV footage, social services documents, custody videos, court files and so on.
But most importantly, Red Sigma is easy to use and is saving police officers time. They can drag and drop ‘baskets’ of data on people, vehicles and locations in order to build their reports, for example. This helps the force build more robust views of ongoing investigations and, at the same time, helps individual police officers build a better understanding of the case in hand and ensures better retention of key details that they then take with them into frontline police work.
This is an important point. Austerity measures put in place by the UK’s coalition government have meant a drop in numbers of serving Durham Constabulary police officers between 2009 and 2014, from 1,578 to 1,200. But at the same time, HMIC has praised Durham Constabulary’s efforts in getting more of the remainder into frontline roles.
Red Sigma is not just likely to provide a platform for other future applications for Durham Constabulary. It’s also being evaluated for adoption by other police forces, with one force already lined up and another interested, according to Grainger.
It’s time, he says, for individual police forces to be more proactive about technology adoption – even in the immediate wake of a new central government launch, the Police ICT Company (PICT), designed to help them make those decisions.
There are lots of ways we can take Red Sigma forward. We can’t just rely on the Home Office or the new Police ICT Company to solve policing problems with technology. The forces need to work better together, to deliver solutions that can be scaled, in ways that benefit us all.
Criminals, he points out, don’t stop at the Durham border. The UK’s police forces need their insights to travel further, too.