Whistleblower says police IT systems ‘unreliable’ but force says issues have been tackled

Cambridgeshire police headquarters, in Huntingdon. Picture: GOOGLE

Cambridgeshire police headquarters, in Huntingdon. Picture: GOOGLE - Credit: Archant

Police IT systems are unreliable and are putting staff and the public “at risk”, according to a whistleblower.

A source with knowledge of the situation says two systems being used by Cambridgeshire police - Integrated Communication Control System (ICCS) and Athena - are “substandard” and staff are “struggling” to use them.

Cambridgeshire police “categorically refutes” the public is at risk, however, and says previous issues with some of the systems have already been addressed.

ICCS is used by call handlers in the force control room and deals with 999 and 101 calls. The Athena system, which is only used by 12 forces in the UK, manages data on offenders, suspects, victims, and incidents, and shares them with other forces.

The whistleblower, who asked to remain anonymous, said: “ICCS has so many faults on it that it is nearly impossible to use, and it keeps crashing. Other call takers no longer get important information on the calls that they used to,such as addresses from where a 999 call comes from or the co-ordinates of mobile transmitter that carried the call, which means calls can no longer be traced as easily and emergency help to vulnerable people is much slower or no longer possible.

“At times these faults also stop the control room speaking to crews on the radio and slows them being sent to emergencies, which puts the police officers and the public at risk.”

However, Cambridgeshire police say the upgraded ICCS system has had a ‘period of adjustment’ but the force is confident it is accurate and works properly.

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A spokesman said: “Some of our staff have taken longer to adjust than others, but overall the system is an upgrade and does not impact upon service to the public. There have been some minor technical issues which have required individual terminals to be re-booted and we are seeking to address any underlying causes for this with our technical teams, however we have a resilient control room with highly proficient and professional staff who are always able to work around minor issues.” Alongside this, the source told the Hunts Post that the IT framework Athena, which is used by officers to log details of crimes and offenders, takes double the time to record crimes, and staff are struggling to use it.

The source said: “Athena is now so bad officers have been ordered to stop using it for domestic abuse, and child and adult safeguarding reports, and have to send them by e-mail instead.”

Talking at a meeting of the Peterborough police and crime panel on March 27, the police and crime commissioner for Cambridgeshire, Jason Ablewhite, admitted that Athena wasn’t up to the standard that he expected.

Mr Ablewhite said: “Is Athena where it should be? Well, no, it isn’t. It represents £1million of public money and has undoubtedly had its problems in the past, but it is getting there.

“The problem is that each individual force – much as they had done with their own information for decades past – added unique solutions of their own to the Athena system, complicating the way it deals with data, slowing it down and eventually stalling it. “We pride ourselves in Cambridgeshire on having some of the keenest computer minds in the world, so it will come as no surprise that a Peterborough-based IT company has come up with a solution to get the system working.”

Athena was introduced early in the decade in an effort to improve information sharing within and between police forces.

According to the reports the intelligence function has been working successfully, but the case management is difficult and slow to use, and has often been taken down while patches are added to the system.

The whistleblower added: “These matters have been raised with senior management and also the police and crime commissioner but no one will listen.”

Mr Ablewhite said: “Despite reports in the press to the contrary, I can now say that the Athena IT system is operational and working across several forces providing unparalleled strategic collaboration covering a vast area of the country – much of which is rural, like Cambridgeshire.”

A spokesman for the Cambridgeshire Police Federation, which represents rank and file officers, acknowledged there were issues with the systems that were being “ironed out”. He said the federation had been made aware of “general concerns” but added that training had been arranged for personnel to help address the issues.