Mark Rowe

Police Industry Charter

by Mark Rowe

The new Police Industry Charter is, to quote from it, ‘to set foundational principles upon which industry partners and UK policing collectively agree’. Mark Rowe digests the short document.

‘There will always be a necessary amount of transaction in the relationship between policing and industry’, the charter says early on. What precisely does that mean? It’s maybe a contrast of ‘transaction’ – police forces have to buy everything from petrol and cars to software and uniforms – with ‘partnership’. Everyone stands to gain; or in the jargon of the public sector, and the charter document, ‘opportunities’.

As background, police and crime commissioners have emerged – the elections for PCCs on May 2 show that they’ve been going for a dozen years. A PCC, Donna Jones in Hampshire, was among those signing the document at the Security & Policing 2024 show earlier this month, where exhibitors meet UK and (invited) overseas police. PCCs are politicians; they need to get elected every four years. If the two sides, police as public servants and businesses needing to make a profit, aren’t wary enough of each other already (despite the charter calling for ‘a culture of open dialogue’), politics only complicates matters.

Although, PCCs have shown themselves keen to procure security products or services. To name one example in the April print edition of Professional Security Magazine, Gloucestershire Police are offering a covert vehicle tracking service to land owners in the county, or rather, the commercial tracking is offered at a discount, due to Home Office Safer Streets Fund money funnelled through Gloucestershire’s PCC. Similarly, in Derbyshire, the PCC is trialling a property marking scheme which will see free Datatag kits distributed to farmers, bricklayers, plumbers and other business owners in the county for protecting their power tools. Now owners of power tools and farmers might prefer to have their property not stolen, by police arresting and deterring offenders, rather than having to pay for marking or tracking, even at a discount (although as the Safer Streets money comes from taxes, in truth the farmers and so forth are paying fully, or at least with some of our, tax-payers’, money). Particularly towards election time, such schemes with photo-opportunities are useful publicity for PCCs of whatever political colour to show they are doing something.

While policing is political in the sense of public money is being spent; typically, the sort of trousers or tablet worn and used by police are hardly party-political. What’s at least debatable is the way police procure those items. I recall many years ago the then Conservative MP Patrick Mercer speaking at Consec, the annual conference of the Association of Security Consultants, making the point; why do the 43 Home Office police forces have to use different makes of this and that; why not harness the combined buying power? For Mercer, the potential gain would have been savings to government. Police make an equally valid point that the various forces, procuring according to their needs (rural or urban, small or large) can more likely promote innovation. While that’s true enough, it does imply the need for some central body, a clearing house, to identify good or best practice, and promote it, or even enforce it upon the less innovative. I have been arguing that UK private security is feeling the lack of such a clearing house, or centre of excellence, whether for local government public realm CCTV, or on-street patrolling by hired SIA-badged patrollers. The first principle of the charter may be relevant here, asking for inter-operability, ‘open architecture as the default’, so that (here the charter goes into jargon) police ‘can remain agile to adopting and adapting technology at pace to meet evolving needs for data fusion and data sharing’.

The second principle is aimed at artificial intelligence, asking industry for a ‘Maximum Transparency by Default (MTBD) position’. Here police are seeking to keep to their own Peelian principle of ‘policing by consent’ rather than doing policing to an alienated public. AI and indeed any tech, according to the charter, ought to be ‘explainable by those that use them’. That implies knowledgeable users of tech, which leads onto the third principle, of ‘professional development’, and ‘skills and knowledge transfer’.

We can skip over the other two principles, of sustainability (everyone has to go for ‘Net Zero’) and the vague or outright meaningless ‘collaboration and partnership’ (or the slightly more exciting-sounding ‘strategic partnership’) which causes the charter to end with a blizzard of cliches – ‘product-centric approach’, ‘public system approach’, and ‘cross-sectoral technology synergies’. As in any market of buyers and sellers, the buyer (here the police) have to inform themselves – they can hardly expect ‘industry’, the sellers, to educate a buyer impartially. And the buyers have to lay down what they want. Depressingly, when public sector buyer and private sector tech vendor come together, the result is like the PTSN replacement of the Airwave emergency services radio network – something way over deadline and budget.

To read the charter visit the website of the company offering services to the police, Bluelight Commercial.

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