Union blues and twos
Just as criminals are using technology to carry out ever more sophisticated crimes, the police are adopting equally high-tech solutions in a bid to beat them at their own game.
And perhaps the most visible form of police technology is contained in the humble panda car, which is now regarded as a mobile police station for forces up and down the country.
But it is Hertfordshire Police, in conjunction with a number of technology suppliers and blue-light vehicle market leader Vauxhall, which is pushing the boundaries of mobile technology.
It is currently trialling 10 specially modified Astras which have been built at the Vauxhall Special Vehicles operation at Millbrook. These cars incorporate a Panasonic Toughpad mobile tablet which can be docked into the vehicle and then operated via a touchscreen monitor located on the centre console.
The trial cars also come with a 4G mobile broadband router located in the boot. The result is a police car with its own wireless hotspot (of up to around 30 metres from the car) which also has a direct link through the tablet device to various back office functions such as the police headquarters server, the Police National Computer and the Automatic Number Plate Recognition system database.
This mobile solution also allows for numerous time-saving applications. For instance, the police headquarters can send the location of a crime to the car’s built-in satellite navigation so officers can be directed to the scene as quickly as possible. The integrated tablet also allows officers to reduce paperwork by issuing online warrants and filing crime reports on the computer, as well as using the built-in camera to take photographs or video from a crime scene.
The initial response from frontline officers to the new tablet and mobile solution in the car has been so positive that Hertfordshire has already ordered 50 of its current fleet to be retro-fitted with the technology. In total it will equip 86 vehicles with the mobile solution technology.
When Tony Chalk project managed to unify the fleet operations of all of Scotland’s police forces into one, he had to quickly appreciate the scale of what was required to operate on day one of the new organisation.
Chalk was tasked to have all the fleet arrangements for the new Police Scotland in place for the launch on April 1, 2013.
This meant centralising all aspects of the vehicle fleet for the newly formed Police Scotland – a force second only in size to the Met and having around 3,500 vehicles and 150 staff in the fleet department alone.
A year on, Chalk, Police Scotland’s transport manager, states modestly, it was “a fairly demanding time”. The process of unifying eight previously separate police forces across the country and two back office functions was, though, far from easy.
Chalk said: ‘We had to deliver the fleet on day one, which is a fairly enormous task. We have 3,500 vehicles, 150 staff, the differing forces had different fuel card arrangements, we needed to get all of the vehicles rebranded with Police Scotland logos – we had to centralise and standardise.’
Luckily for Police Scotland, Chalk is a vice-chairman of the NAPFM (National Association of Police Fleet Managers) executive committee so he used his background and expertise to help manage the switchover to ensure there were no legacy issues from the previous regional framework of policing in Scotland.
He adds: ‘It wasn’t just the fleet changing, but the entire policing operation in Scotland so it was demanding, but we have a tight team up here and we worked together.
‘The creation of Police Scotland has meant the centralisation of all purchasing for the police across the country, which improves standardisation and helps to reduce costs.’
You would imagine that policing such a diverse area, from bustling cities to remote island communities, would bring special demands on the force’s vehicles, but this isn’t the case.
The vehicles are all purchased outright through the Home Office procurement framework agreement; although there is some leeway in specification, for instance specifying winter tyres for vehicles. Police Scotland has a higher percentage of 4x4s on its fleet than some other forces due to the varying terrain in the country, but otherwise it acts as any other constabulary in terms of converting its vehicles to accept technologies such as ANPR (automatic number plate recognition) systems and links to the Police National Computer.
Ford, BMW and Mitsubishi are currently the three key suppliers, with Ford supplying turn-key Focus estate models and Transit Custom and Connect vans, BMW supplying 3 Series, 5 Series and X5 models for motorway patrols and Mitsubishi delivering Shoguns and Outlanders. Elsewhere, there are a number of “personnel protected vehicles” – riot vans to you and me.
Of the 3,500 vehicles on fleet, more than half are marked vehicles which are on duty 24 hours a day, racking up to 40,000 miles a year. And because Police Scotland is now one force, the vehicles are not tied to their particular area as they were before. This negates the need for what is known as “mutual aid” whereby forces would divert resources to help one another out. Now, the vehicles can be deployed, within reason, in any part of the country.
As well as having all of the vehicles re-badged with the new force logo and wording, Chalk has unified the fuel buying process across the country, with one Arval fuel card now in operation along with some bunkered fuel across the force’s 14 in-house workshops which are in the main being retained because, as Chalk states: ‘We are convinced that in-house is more efficient’.
As with the purchasing side of things, Chalk uses his links to the NAPFM for remarketing – the association has a national disposal contract with British Car Auctions (BCA), which stages sales of de-fleeted police stock every four weeks. This, according to Chalk, makes de-fleeting the vehicles ‘a painless experience’, especially as the vehicle manufacturers have become a lot more accustomed in the way that they convert vehicles from the production line into blue light specification – there’s no more drilling holes in the roof to mount light bars and the dashboards are no longer peppered with holes from mounting points for various items of technology.
Although it has been 10 months since the launch of Police Scotland, Chalk still has some work still to do, with the next three years seeing the fleet gradually replaced. Around 250 cars are due to be changed by the end of March 2014.
He is also keeping an eye on the latest telematics technologies, such as the pioneering system introduced by Hertfordshire Police which sees their vehicles equipped to carry a special new tablet PC which unifies many policing functions (such as requesting search warrants, posting appeals for missing persons, getting satellite guidance to a crime scene) into one car-based system. At present, there is no decision on what route to take.
Chalk said: ‘There are 44 UK police forces all buying different technology. We need to get a standard technology framework – it’s a big step.’
What is Police Scotland:
Police Scotland is responsible for policing the 28,000 square miles of Scotland, making it the second largest force in the UK after the Metropolitan Police.
There are 14 local policing divisions, each headed by a commander who ensures that local policing in each area is tailored to meet local needs. Each division encompasses response officers, community officers, local crime investigation, road policing, public protection and local intelligence.
Alongside the local policing divisions, there are a number of national specialist divisions. The Specialist Crime Division (SCD) provides specialist investigative and intelligence functions such as major crime investigation, public protection, organised crime, counter terrorism, intelligence and safer communities.
The Operational Support divisions provide specialist support functions such as road policing, air support, dog branch, marine policing and the mounted branch.
Police Scotland in numbers:
- 3,500 vehicles
- 150 staff
- 1,700 marked vehicles
- 14 in-house workshops
- 28,000 sq. mile area
- 3 main vehicle suppliers