Image and Data Manager Magazine
Police records management in the UK has been under the microscope since a judicial inquiry in 2004 identified information weaknesses that led to the tragic circumstances of the Soham murders. The Soham murders was an English murder case in 2002 of two 10-year-old girls in the village of Soham, Cambridgeshire.
The Police rely on information to do their job well. Traditionally information has been recorded on paper, completed by an officer at a scene of a crime or an accident, or by a member of the public coming to the police station and records being completed, or gathered form other places and other witnesses. Before the advent of computer records, ledgers were maintained at police stations to keep a log of events, registration of property, log crimes/accidents reported and provide reference numbers.
Whilst recording information is a good thing, if the volume of records is too high and information cannot be easily accessed, it becomes worthless in terms of supporting operational policing. There has to be an effective method of recovering and understanding the information held within records.
In 1986 the Home Office Large Major Enquiry System (HOLMES) was introduced as a policing tool in the UK. It supported the investigation of incidents where masses of information needed to be processed. In effect HOLMES was an early Electronic Document and Records Management System (EDRMS). It provided a system that allowed key words searching in records that had been committed to an electronic format. However, as the acronym indicates, the system was only used for the most serious crimes and access beyond that criteria was almost non-existent. Another key computer system in the UK is the Police National Computer (PNC); it was initially established in 1974, to store and rapidly provide officers with information about stolen vehicles. It now holds a much wider range of information about people, vehicles, crime and other property.
Police National Database
Recently a new information system; the Police National Database (PND) has been launched in the UK. PND holds information about convicted criminals and intelligence about those the police have an interest in. It also includes some victim details. Police forces can now check each others information very rapidly. If good use is to be made of this information then data accuracy and completeness of records essential. If records are destroyed too soon, then any potential intelligence value is lost, and there will be insufficient information to assist in case reviews at a later date.
A PND was one of the key recommendations from the Bichard Inquiry into police failings into the Soham murders in 2002. It found that police failed to disclose details of allegations against Ian Huntley a year before he murdered Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, both aged 10. Those allegations, had they been known about, would probably have resulted in him failing the vetting process, and would have subsequently prevented him from getting a job that allowed him access to his victims.
When Huntley applied for a job as a school care taker he was required to fill out a police record check form. He did this but used an alias name of Nixon, as he had done when arrested for rape in 1999. This name when checked did not give a full history of Huntley’s contacts with the police because vital intelligence had not been available. Individuals in the force knew that Huntley and Nixon were one and the same, but this was not reflected in the information held on records systems. Police failings in records management at the time of the inquiry were described in as “systemic and corporate” .
The Bichard Inquiry Report referenced confusion in police records management: “… so serious that there was not even a common understanding of what was meant by ‘weeding’, ‘reviewing’ and ‘deletion’. It cannot now be ascertained how many records were lost without proper review.”
Bichard also said that the confusion may have contributed to “the deletion of the information in the only intelligence report on Huntley and that, the ‘haemorrhaging’ of intelligence casts serious doubts on the usefulness of other Humberside Police records”.
In addition to the establishment of a PND to enable wider sharing of police information, the Bichard Inquiry recommended a code of practice on how police forces should manage their records.
He said it: “Must clearly set out the key principles of good information management (capture, review, retention, deletion and sharing), having regard to policing purposes, the rights of the individual and the law.” and “Must set out the standards to be met in terms of systems (including IT), accountability, training, resources and audit. “
Management of Police Information
The code of practice detailing the Management of Police Information (MoPI) was issued in April 2006. Since then UK police forces have been working to ensure compliance with the standards it sets out. A revised version of the code was published in 2010.\
In essence MoPI provided police with a set of standards that equate to good records management. The guidance includes a requirement for standardisation of policy and practice concerning information sharing, for records to be reviewed and linked, and for a standard retention policy to be applied to records.
To aid its implementation each force was required to have had an action plan, and progress against the plan was reported on monthly to the National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA).
Records management, done well, can be challenging for any organisation. MoPI sets out those challenges very clearly to police forces.
The first challenge is the quantity of records that need to be assessed, evaluated and linked (where appropriate) to others, if necessary on a daily basis. Secondly there is the challenge of not knowing what you don’t know. If you don’t know the detail of what is contained in a hand written statement that has been consigned to an archive store, how can you know if the detail of that statement is relevant? Can you be sure that the headline information provided in an electronic crime report will provide the level of detail required to decide if a suspect should be arrested or not?
HOLMES provided a solution to this problem for major enquiries, but there has been no national drive to achieve the same result with other police investigations.
Accessing information contained within paper records was part of the challenge faced by one Police Force as it came to terms with the requirements of MoPI. That Force moved from discussion and hypothesis around digitising some of its paper records, to delivering a viable pilot scheme and subsequent operational deployment, in a short space of time and with minimal resources. Its methodology and application is equally applicable to any organisation that has a requirement to manage unstructured data as part of its overall records management strategy.
With a project team of two and other project work packages to deliver on, there were the following challenges to meet:
• Challenge 1 – to reduce quantity of paper held and produced
• Challenge 2 – to make content more widely available to those who need and have authority to access it
• Challenge 3 – to ensure that records (paper) are maintained in a secure environment
• Challenge 4 – to provide this as proof of concept with limited project support and minimal budget
• Challenge 5 – Change the culture from storing paper to canning and making better use of the paper content and, gain support for such an approach by senior management.
At the time there was nobody who could provide clarity about the electronic scanning process or where digital records would be stored. Chief Officers had delegated achieving MoPI compliance to a project board. The project board did not understand how the EDRMS worked or what its capabilities were.
There was awareness that it was only being used in one support department in a limited capacity, to store documents collectively referred to as “corporate memory” (Meeting minutes, agendas and Home Office Circulars).
There was also an aversion to electronic scanning. Previously scanning had been outsourced and local records managers did not receive the level of service they had been promised. Scanned records had been linked to the wrong files and physical papers that were returned to the organisation were misfiled or missing. This caused additional work for the officers using those files. There was an organisational resistance to any form of outsourced scanning.
The project board drew up a list of the principle areas of focus for a Pilot Scheme:
• Weeding: The initial plan was to focus on weeding to reduce the amount of paper being held and prevent retention of documents deemed to be of no further value to the organisation. For the pilot scheme, court and crime records were weeded. Duplicate records and records that could be reproduced from computer systems were disposed of.
• Scanning: There was a desire to use technology more efficiently, to be able to scan records and upload them into the EDRMS. The approach of scan on demand was taken; a record would only be scanned if somebody in the organisation needed access to it.
• Information sharing: The vision was to develop an effective method to locate files in the physical archive, reduce the size of the file by weeding and once scanned to share the record electronically.
• Increased awareness: To raise awareness of the benefits of information discovery and sharing, a competition to promote MoPI was run. Staff were asked to provide a simple statement describing what MoPI meant to them. The winning submission was “MoPI – It could save a life”.
When the weeding team began to receive requests for files to be scanned and shared, they scanned using a multifunctional device (MFD). The electronic file was then emailed to the requester. This was an improvement to the previous process where the requester would drive to the store, find the file, drive back and pass it to the investigating officer. However, scanning from the MFD, without any way of managing the scanned image, proved problematic. The output was a large PDF format document and the requester would have to scroll through the entire file to get to the information they needed. There was something missing between scanning and then sharing the file to make this an efficient and effective process.
The Force needed data capture software and had viewed several potential solutions. They contacted EzeScan, a commercial company providing a suite of document scanning products, to discuss the requirements and challenges faced. EzeScan agreed to support the pilot scheme by providing software for evaluation.
The software was configured to apply metadata to digitised records, enabling ease of searching of hand written content. Large files were separated into smaller component parts, making the end product more user friendly, for example, statements were separated from interview notes .The files were then uploaded to the EDRMS, preventing the need to send large email files across networks.
Awareness of the pilot scheme spread quickly, and those who had previously been concerned about deploying a scanning solution had their confidence restored. EzeScan can be completely tailored to meet the requirements of the user but the operator is only required to learn a few basic steps.
This is an option that can be deployed into an organisation very quickly, provided the groundwork has been done and the options and the required outcomes have been thought through.
Scanning records reduced the demand on storage space, enabled rapid viewing of scanned records and reduced the costs associated with storage and retrieval. The organisation retained complete control over the records it created, and more importantly, it was able to view and make use of the content of those records at any time it desired.
Digitised documents uploaded to the record management system provided the organisation with confidence that documents had providence and integrity. It also allowed more efficient searching of the record content, records linked to an inquiry can be found quickly and relevant intelligence can be extracted. There was improved security achieved by transferring documents electronically across the organisation, rather than manually.
Audit, version control, retention dates and tracking of documents were routinely taken care of by digitising records, in many cases these were added benefits, not previously considered by the organisation.
This combined EzeScan/EDRMS solution offers an ‘invest to save’ opportunity for organisations who need greater control over their records management, offering a process for creating digitised records from paper archives in a few simple steps.
Immediately after the pilot, EzeScan was installed into the major crime archive. Work commenced on digitising hundreds of serious case files. Its use was also expanded in terms of providing information to the corporate memory. Additional records being scanned and uploaded to EDRMS now include:
• Information sharing agreement requests and responses
• Subject access requests
• Crime files
• Road traffic collision files
• Human resources files
The force is now preparing to deploy the system to manage the CPS direct processes enabling officers to submit papers electronically to the CPS for charging decisions.
The tragic loss of two young lives in Soham might have been prevented if Police organisations, whose primary role is to protect life and property, had managed their records and information in accordance with the guidance now available to them.
The guidance (MoPI) states clearly that forces should regularly review the information within records and link them where appropriate. If such information is contained in papers records, there must be an established process of getting it into electronic systems.
The establishment of PNC, HOLMES and PND have all been reactive steps to information management challenges. Those charged with the protection of life and property need information in a timely fashion to make decisions, and in terms of policing, reactive systems provide this. What is needed now is to go one step further with information and records management in making “hidden content” equally available by digitising paper records to help prevent future tragedies.
This article has focused on information to support policing, but the responsibility for “care” sits with a much wider section of society. Health workers, social workers, social housing providers, education providers, probation officers, local authorities and security services all share the responsibility. There have been too many instances where failings in records management and information sharing have contributed to the loss of life. Now is the time to be proactive in prevention – MoPI, “Could save a life”.
The author of this article, Kim Sadler, is a former UK police officer who now works as a business consultant. She focuses on information and records management along with business process re-engineering.
Soham murders – the previous allegations against Ian Huntley
Ian Huntley had numerous contacts with Humberside Police long before he was arrested for the murders of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman. This suggests that a pattern of Huntley being linked with allegations of sexual offences had begun long before he went to Soham.
August 1995: Underage sex – A police and social services investigation: A 15 year old girl admits she was having sex with Huntley. Police decide not to pursue the matter in accordance with her wishes.
15 November 1995: Burglary – Huntley is arrested and charged with burglary in March 1996 which he admits. The case goes to court and is ordered to lie on file.
March 1996: Underage sex – A complaint to social services that Huntley is having a sexual relationship with an underage girl. The girl denies the allegation. The police were not involved in the investigation
April 1996: Underage sex – Another 15-year-old; the family does not wish to involve the police and no further action is taken.
May 1996: Underage sex – Police and social services investigation into allegations that Huntley had had sex with a 13-year-old girl. The girl denies this and supported by her mother she refuses to have a medical examination. Police did not interview Huntley.
April 1998: Rape – Huntley is arrested after a woman claimed he had raped her. Huntley claimed it was consensual. The police took the view there was not enough evidence to take the matter any further.
May 1998: Rape charge – A woman claims Huntley raped her while she was walking home from a nightclub. Huntley again says the sex was consensual. Huntley is charged with rape. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) decided there was no chance of a conviction and dropped the case.
July 1998: Indecent assault – A young girl claims she was subject to a serious indecent assault by a man called Ian 10 months before, when she was 12 years old. Huntley, who was living in her street at the time is arrested and denies the allegation, police decided not to proceed with the case.
February 1999: Rape – A 17-year-old girl alleges that Huntley had raped her in February after meeting him at a night club. Huntley claimed the sex was consensual and the police decided there was not enough evidence to proceed.
July 1999: Rape – A woman is raped and Huntley was interviewed because of his previous behaviour. He was by this time using the name Nixon. He supplied a DNA sample and had an alibi provided by Maxine Carr. The woman subsequently said Huntley was not the rapist.