But it's an enormous job, says CIO
Building a national police database is a major challenge but will make a big difference, according to the CIO of the agency given the job of putting it all together.
The "sheer complexity" of extracting and sharing information from hundreds of local computer systems used by the 43 forces in England and Wales is one of the biggest tasks facing UK police, Richard Earland, CIO of the National Policing Improvement Agency, told silicon.com recently.
"One of the biggest challenges is the sheer complexity of policing and the police technology environment.
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"There is not the degree of integration that we would expect. It is a very heterogeneous environment, because we have developed IT force-by-force," he said.
From 2010, data will be automatically pulled from local systems and placed into a Police National Database (PND).
Using the database, forces will be able to share all information related to criminal investigations and intelligence reports, as well as specialised data relating to child and domestic abuse.
The system will allow officers to check what information other forces hold on specific people, objects - such as vehicles - and crimes in England and Wales. For example, to check on every theft of an Aston Martin car, or to track every time an individual has come into contact with police.
"I was appointed to help police forces join up their IT systems and I think that most people would be surprised at the amount of work that still needs to be done.
"We have been working on it for some time, we have got a major programme called the Police National Database, which is part of the Impact programme, and will next year make a very big difference. On any scale this is an enormously challenging programme," Earland said.
The PND was demanded in a review of police information sharing by Sir Michael Bichard.
A contract for the first phase of the £600m PND rollout - the linking of local systems - is due to be awarded to one of three consortiums led by Fujitsu, Logica or Unisys in March.
The winning contractor will work alongside IT staff in local forces in England and Wales to implement software and hardware that can extract data from the local systems and automatically feed it into the PND.
Existing local systems will either be phased out or will continue to run alongside the PND if it is felt they still provide some functionality.