Ten thousand PDAs have been rolled out to police officers across the country, home secretary Jacqui Smith has said.
A further 20,000 devices will be introduced over the 18 months, in an attempt to reduce paper form filling for officers out on the beat.
The mobile devices are being introduced to help police officers spend more time on the streets, filling out reports and fingerprinting live at the scene, and enabling them to access centrally stored data on criminals. The government has so far pledged £75 million to the project.
But different forces are using different technology after procuring their own systems, which has raised some concerns over compatibility. Smith said the National Policing Improvement Agency was leading work to improve communication between the systems.
The government will now concentrate on rolling out the devices “quickly”,
The government would "legislate to strengthen the provisions for collaboration, whether in the back office or on the front line of operations”, Smith told MPs in a debate on the Queen's Speech last week.
Collaboration is vital to enable law enforcement forces to tackle crime, according to the government. Smith said forces should “look to each other to collaborate where needed to tackle crime at all levels”.
Labour MP Keith Vaz, chairman of the home affairs committee, said it was critical that the devices were compatible, “so that Lincolnshire can talk to Leicestershire without using a different system, which is one of the problems that our police forces have encountered”.
The Police Federation, which represents police officers in England and Wales, recently argued that the country "simply cannot afford to continue the current trend of multiple forces procuring multiple new technology solutions that are unique and not compatible in either resource or functionality across the force", according to a home affairs committee report in early November.
The main initiative intended to address concerns about an overall lack of information sharing by the police is the £600 million police national database, a central data repository for Britain's 53 forces. The database is “on track” for initial deployment in 2010 as previously announced, minister of state for policing Vernon Coaker told MPs two weeks ago.
But this go-live date will be six years after the Bichard Report, which said the failure to link up information between forces led to Ian Huntley, the killer of school girls Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells, being able to work as a caretaker in a school in spite of previous criminal allegations against him in areas covered by other police forces.
Coaker said initial negotiations between the NPIA and potential IT suppliers for the database were complete, and three consortia through to the final round will submit bids by 5 January. PND programme managers were working with the police to implement rules and processes, IT infrastructure and data for the rollout, Coaker said.
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