A major database of criminals, victims and other people has been formally launched by the National Policing Improvement Agency, although police forces are already using it.
Jennie Cronin, director of the database programme at the NPIA, has announced the launch of the Police National Database (PND). Photo credit: David Meyer
The Police National Database (PND), launched on Wednesday, contains the details of between 10-15 million people. Of these, 9.2 million are records of convictions or arrests, but it also covers an unknown number of victims of crimes and others who have come to the attention of the police.
In a briefing ahead of the PND launch, National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA) programme director Jennie Cronin said the database did not contain any new information about criminals, victims and others, but was bringing together known information "in the most secure police system ever".
"We've been working with [prime contractor] Logica since 2009 to design, build and implement the system," Cronin said. "It is now operational in all the police forces [in England and Wales] and will shortly be operational in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Forces are already finding new information that's making a difference to their enquiries, so we're very proud of it."
The £75.6m database has its roots in the Soham murders in 2002. In 2004, Sir Michael Bichard's report into the investigation found police forces were unable to share sufficient information with one another. If they had been able to link up multiple but geographically scattered reports of Ian Huntley's sexual aggression, Bichard said, the police might have been able to stop the school caretaker killing the 10-year-olds Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells.
Our design presumptions are that the people who will use this will be the analysts, whose day job is investigating criminals and their associates and looking for patterns of crime.– Jennie Cronin, NPIA
In the briefing, Cronin said the NPIA and Logica are proud to have delivered the PND on time. However, in 2004, when then home secretary David Blunkett responded to Bichard's report by announcing Impact, an inter-force system, he said it would be completed within three years. According to Cronin, this timescale was never going to be met.
"Without taking any advice from anyone, he said we'll have it all done by 2007," Cronin said on Wednesday. "One-hundred-and-fifty police systems all recorded information in completely different ways and were not connectable to each other. As the complexity became clear, the new plan was put in place."
An interim system was deployed in 2005, with the target of the main PND capabilities being delivered in 2010. The procurement phase was completed at the end of 2008. In 2010, the NPIA announced a tool called the Code List Management Service (CLMS) to standardise the data — the tool has since been renamed Listpoint — and in October of that year the first PND capabilities were offered to forces.
The first police forces were connected at the beginning of November, and all 43 forces in England and Wales are now hooked up. Forces in Scotland and Northern Ireland, along with the British Transport Police, will also join soon, meaning all 56 forces in the UK will participate in the scheme.
The PND can support up to 12,000 users across the UK, Cronin said. As there are around 200,000 police officers and specialist staff in the country, "each force will decide for itself which are the right users", she added.
"Our design presumptions are that the people who will use this will be the analysts, whose day job is investigating criminals and their associates and looking for patterns of crime, and other officers will go and investigate," Cronin said.
The security around the database has multiple layers. Users will have to be vetted and trained, and will only be able to log onto the PND with a smartcard and a password, and only in special confidential rooms, with locks and no windows.
We recognise the need for controls and policies and codes of practice on how the PND is used, because this is such a sensitive system.– Jennie Cronin
ZDNet UK asked Cronin who was responsible for making sure officers did not share smartcards and passwords, and for punishing those who do. Cronin said such matters are up to the individual police force.
"We recognise the need for controls and policies and codes of practice on how the PND is used, because this is such a sensitive system," Cronin said. "We laid a code of practice in parliament in 2009, saying each chief constable needs to have due regard and forces have to get independent accreditation of their own business setup."
The PND is indeed sensitive, as it contains not only information about criminals, but also about the most vulnerable victims. Cronin said the police services had agonised over the decision to include victims. Although she described victims as making up "a very small minority" of those logged on the PND, she was unable to say how many are listed.
"The PND is for protecting the most vulnerable," she said. "Acpo [the Association of Chief Police Officers] agonised over this and decided only victims of serious sexual offences and serious violent offences will be on the PND."
Also unquantified is the number of people on the PND who are neither perpetrators nor victims. ZDNet UK asked whether, for example, the PND might include the details of protestors who had been logged by the police for being at a demonstration that turned violent. Cronin confirmed that this may be the case.
"It is a matter for the police force [as to] what information they hold," she said, saying such information may be on the national database "if a police force feels it is important enough to have on their own system and feels it is important enough to share". She added, however, that anyone can make a request with their local police force to see if their details are on that force's systems.
There is a strong chance that the responsibilities of the NPIA will be folded into the upcoming National Crime Agency (NCA), which will also take in the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca) and a department to fight cybercrime. Asked how the dissolution of the NPIA might affect the PND, Cronin said the only significant change would be that there will be no more "programme to support business change", as the database will be an established police service by the end of this financial year.
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