The NSW Police Force lacked strategic direction in managing its six-year, $100 million ICT upgrade, with the program receiving mixed marks in a performance review by the NSW Audit Office.
In a just-released audit report, the Office revealed that, in hindsight, NSW Police failed to maintain a “strategic whole-of-organisation approach” in identifying and addressing technology capability gaps during the upgrade.
A whole-of-organisation approach would have involved working with wide-ranging stakeholders and taking a longer-term view in rolling-out and managing the technology overhaul.
NSW Police’s ‘Policing for Tomorrow’ strategy, announced during the 2015 election and within which the ICT upgrade formed a key focus, was intended to modernise the state Force’s back-office platforms and align these with new front-line technologies.
From the outset, however, the bulk of state funding committed the Police Force to several high-priority, front-line tech investments, among which included body-worn video cameras, smartphone devices, mobile fingerprinting technology, scanners, and hand-held drug testing devices.
According to the audit report, the funding allocation did not factor in engagement with the Force’s stakeholders – both internally or across the criminal justice system. The shopping inventory for front-line policing technology was also considered not to have factored in back-office needs.
Utilising residual funds & managing expectations
While the upgrade was deemed mostly effective, the audit found that a more strategic whole-of-organisation approach would have helped to better target the residual funds and manage stakeholder expectations.
It found a piecemeal approach to the allocation of ICT funding, focused more on the benefits of standalone technologies rather than a holistic, outcome-based priority.
“Investment decisions for remaining funds were driven by the availability of funding and individual technology requirements rather than targeting improved policing outcomes and the capability necessary to achieve these,” the audit said.
Police had missed an opportunity with the remaining funds, where it had discretion, to select technology projects based on a more integrated, whole-of-organisation approach.
Such an approach would have offered a broader perspective while encouraging regular engagement with external stakeholders. This would have required NSW Police to work across different portfolio boundaries (for example, the criminal justice system or back-office functions) and deliver an integrated response to overarching technology needs.
Consulting with stakeholders
Police have a wide set of community stakeholders, among these, the “downstream parts” of the criminal justice system such as prosecutions, courts, support services, and corrections. However, it appears these stakeholders were not immediately consulted in the ICT upgrade process, hindering technology and, ultimately, operations integration efforts.
“The NSW Police Force does not routinely seek out these stakeholders’ feedback on the selection, use, or impacts of new technology where this changes interactions between officers and the public,” the audit said.
The audit report has offered a series of recommendations for consideration by June 2021.
Among these, it suggests that NSW Police should finalise and routinely use a whole-of-organisation capability model for future upgrades.
Such a model would allow for more proactive planning for ICT capital investment and decisions about allocating resources.
Police could also garner regular feedback from front-line officers to assess existing technology and forecast future needs.
As of 30 June 2019, the NSW Police Force employed 17,111 sworn police officers and 3,969 unsworn or administrative officers. Most officers were deployed from one of over 400 police stations across the state.