How West Midlands Police revolutionised its data capabilities

To the everyday person, the police are known as a power for good, there to prevent crime and keep the local community safe

However, what goes on in the police force in order to fulfill that duty, is far more multifaceted than first meets the eye. Take technology for example — it’s a vital component to the organisation’s management and a critical resource for police officers whilst out in their line of duty. Paving the way when it comes to the utilisation of technology is West Midlands Police (WMP), the UK’s second-largest police force. It has embraced digital transformation and radically enhanced its data and analytics capabilities, thereby improving the way the force is able to operate.

Helen Davis, Assistant Director of IT & Digital at WMP, explains how she and her team have put data at the heart of operations and how it’s changed policing:

An outdated system

Every police force is faced with critical situations on a daily basis, from raids and arrests to patrolling the streets to keep people safe. This is no different for the West Midlands Police who are faced with over 2,000 emergency calls every day. With each of these interactions generating data, the police had an untold amount of insights at its fingertips, but didn’t have the infrastructure to process and manage it efficiently. Until recently, the force’s data was sat in siloed systems, inaccessible to all 10,000 employees. As a result, WMP was facing difficulty getting the right data to the right people, when they needed it, which reduced the efficiency of how the department operates.

The Data Insights Project

After being brought in to modernise the force’s technology department, my team and I recognised the need for a major digital transformation. We formed a partnership with Cloudera and Accenture, to implement what is now known as the Data-Driven Insights Project. This first for policing in the UK has enabled the WMP to improve the quality, speed and efficiency of the way it shares its information. With Cloudera, we’ve reworked the force’s analytics capabilities, moving away from the previous fixed legacy system, to a cutting-edge cloud-based model. This updated framework means that data can be accessed anywhere, at any time, and is not restricted by storage space. Instead, we can now expand data storage as and when needed, without having to remove any current information. This pay as you go method provides financial flexibility and enables us to accommodate growth. More specifically, since implementing the Data-Drive Insights Project, the force has been able to properly manage the huge amounts of data in our possession, and provide it to those both at HQ and out in the field, in real-time. Instead of notes being made on pen and paper, the digital touchpoints can be stored and analysed at the touch of a button. Increasing insights and allowing for informed decision making, in sometimes critical situations.

A new era for the force

The results of this digital revolution speak for themselves. Since the implementation of the platform, 15 (with 80 planned) complex data sources have been integrated into a single highly scalable search platform. Subsequently, the force now has a single view for all police data, which can be securely accessed by 8,000 concurrent users, instantaneously, across desktop and mobile. However, the most important aspects of WMP’s digital transformation is how these digital advancements are helping the team in their everyday jobs, meaning they can better serve their communities. Police on the street can now get vital information via an app, for example, about a location or car registration, at the touch of a button. This means the police can respond quickly and do not have to return to the station, or perform a manual process, to gather this information. Furthermore, the platform allows WMP to investigate and identify insights that can help keep them safe. For instance, instant access to records on offenders whose criminal activity placed the largest burden on the police force — therefore if an officer comes in contact with one of these people, they will have the background knowledge to be able to respond accordingly.

There are also apps for when the team is on the go, such as the Crimes Visual Analytics App. This enables key decision-makers to track a host of KPIs related to reported crimes across the West Midlands region. In more practical terms the app means that the WMP can improve how it deploys its resources to combat particular crime types across specific regions. Meanwhile, the Enhanced Incident Management Performance Apps allows more tactical decision-making based on 999 calls. Through this app, it is easier for HQ to see which officers are available and therefore, able to get to the scene of the crime the fastest. This used to be a purely manual process, however since the force’s digital transformation this year, the team has expedited its response time, reaching citizens at risk more rapidly. For example, running a query, the technical term for requesting information from the database, has become much quicker, reduced from minutes, for complex queries, to just a few seconds. To put this into context, so far the function has already been used to inform over 1.5M inquiries.

As demonstrated by WMP, the business benefits of undergoing a digital transformation and putting the infrastructure in place to efficiently manage and process data are endless. By creating a central platform where data is effectively stored and shared, you allow for better, more informed, smarter decision making, that can transform the way operations are handled.

About the Author

Helen Davis is Assistant Director of IT & Digital at West Midlands Police, the second largest police force in Britain, has forged a successful path in  an industry where women make up less than 10% of the leadership team. She has transformed the force’s digital strategy using data to significantly improve operations. Now, she leads a team of data scientists and engineers and works alongside a bespoke data ethics committee.