London’s Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) has 620 square miles of capital city to look after and this is done by 31,000 uniformed staff, 13,600 police staff, over 414 traffic wardens and around 2,000 police community support officers.

In response to the scale of the challenge, The Met – already a significant user of IT – has implemented one of Europe’s largest mobile data applications, a system that provides in-car access so that patrolling officers now have live access to information only previously available through The Met control rooms or back at the station. Mobile data terminal (MDT) technology has now been rolled out to over 1,500 vehicle response units across The Met’s 32 London borough response areas.

"We wanted to empower officers out in the field with the information they need at their fingertips"

Shaun O’Neill, The Met’s MDT business change manager

By the same token, those ‘back-office’ staff now have access to response vehicles’ precise locations via global positioning systems (GPS) based mapping software, delivering more accurate data on patrol officers’ availability and resources to better respond to incidents. This should ensure that the right unit is deployed to the right place at the right time. Data transmitted by MDT is also encrypted to provide extra security for sensitive police information.

Bobbies now have remote access in their cars to the Police National Computer (PNC), Computer Aided Despatch (CAD) messages, in-car mapping, Quick Address for address checks, a text messaging service and patrol supervisory functions giving patrol supervisors additional capacity to manage their response resources. Access to these services has freed up radio airtime and released latent demand, especially for the PNC.

“We were looking to free up control room time through officers having remote access to information and data sources,” says Superintendent Shaun O’Neill, The Met’s MDT business change manager and the senior police officer sponsor of the project. “We wanted to empower officers out in the field by providing them with the information they need at their fingertips, with no need to contact the control rooms. There was also a requirement for a more efficient resource location system to assist deploying officers in the field.”

The Met decided to opt for mobile software. “MDTs were seen as giving us the most effective and efficient solution for our business requirements,” he says. The project was started quite some time ago – October 1999 – with preliminary research into appropriate solutions. There was a two-year trial of the MDT product from 2000, with a full rollout commencing in October 2003 and completed in January 2005.

Pinpoint accuracy

In functionality terms, MDT gives The Met an automatic vehicle location system through an on-board GPS which tracks the vehicle in real-time, providing accurate location information both to the officers in the vehicle and despatchers in the command and control room.

A record is created in the MDT database at regular intervals that delivers a status feed to the command and control system and supervisors of real-time information on current incidents. That record can tell managers a vehicle’s location, the time the vehicle has spent at the location, the direction travelled, the vehicle’s speed and if the vehicle is stationary.

While that is useful, in police terms, the next set of data is probably more vital: a vehicle status is displayed through colour coding along with an incident list that shows patrol supervisors which incidents are current, resolved or need to be allocated to a response team. Control room staff also have the option to send incident updates directly to MDTs. Patrol officers can now also directly update the incident database via their MDT units, which are seen straight away by control room staff.

Safety first

There is also a safety function: emergency activation of an MDT leads to an incident being created in the command and control system that contains an accurate map reference. This allows support to be despatched immediately to the correct location.

These mobility-based applications have already provided a range of return on investment and organisational benefits for The Met, says O’Neill. Since full rollout at the end of 2004, PNC checks made by police on the devices have shot up by over a third in the past year, with 2.4m vehicle checks and 1.6m name queries made this way. All this contributes to improved operational efficiency, with better radio use as officers using mobile terminals cuts demands on control room staff to provide information. This is complemented by improved and direct provision of information to staff – which is, in O’Neill’s words, “assisting in detecting and resolving criminal activity”.

He adds: “Supervisors are also accessing management information more often, enabling them to allocate resources to ongoing incidents. We have better management information with a full audit trail of officer and patrol activity, which contributes to improved resource planning and senior management teams are now better able to review and enhance patrol patterns to meet local needs. Also more intelligence equals more arrests. Control room staff can see where response vehicles are at all times, so support and response can be directed more accurately and quickly while the mapping feature allows officers in cars to locate incidents more quickly.”

Keeping tabs

Patrol supervisors also now have MDT in their vehicles, from where they can direct operations on the ground rather than from the control room. This means they have a better ‘command picture’ of police officers in attendance at an incident, those potentially able to offer back-up, and the range of incidents in individual London boroughs requiring response.

"MDTs allow us to focus on delivering the best service to our citizens by using our resources more effectively to make London a safer city"

Commander Bob Broadhurst, The Met

There is also an improvement, he says, in officer safety and empowerment. “With information being sent via MDT, officers spend less time on the radio requesting background information for incidents, freeing the radio for co-ordination and command of incidents and improving officer safety. Through direct access to both the MPS and national databases, officers can access critical police information that is helping them better protect their own safety.”

“This service is benefiting the people of London and police officers alike,” claims The Met’s Commander Bob Broadhurst. “These new in-car computers are another step in delivering 21st century policing by ensuring we can assign the most appropriate police officers to an incident and they are primed with the necessary information to manage and resolve situations. MDTs allow us to focus on delivering the best service to our citizens by using our resources more effectively to make London a safer city.”

Overcoming the obstacles

O’Neill acknowledges that asking busy users to adapt to such a technology has had its challenges. “As with the implementation of any IT project involving process business change there has been a period of time while users get used to the system before potential benefits are realised. But as they have seen how the system can help them, we have started to see these benefits realised, with officers becoming innovative with their use of MDT. We have clearly released a latent demand for the systems offered on MDT and are seeing increasing effectiveness in the way we work and improved officer safety.” MIS UK asked The Met, based on this experience, what it thinks the best way would be to introduce innovation like MDTs into an emergency services organisation.

O’Neill believes that while a change management approach that engages and communicates with key stakeholders throughout the full lifetime of the project is vital, other useful steps include identifying the business issues at an early stage, early trialling of the product, and “acquiring a good knowledge of the market and development with users”.

Overall, he says, “This is not just about officers being able to make faster checks on CAD and PNC – this is meeting a demand we knew was there, but can now be fulfilled through the use of mobile data technology.”