Hertfordshire Police and Crime Commissioner.  
Commissioner's Office: 01707 806100
Catching up
As public servants and politicians, we like to kid ourselves that we are ahead of the curve on technology. I have issued several press releases heralding the arrival of the cutting edge in Hertfordshire. In truth we are playing catch-up. Everyday technology - the kind we all have in our pockets these days - is moving a good deal faster we are. 
 
With this rapid progress comes a new and increased appetite for accessibility. If I can use my phone to track the progress of my parcel, or even the time I need to be at the airport to pick up travelling relatives, why can I still not access basic information about how a crime against me is being managed.
 
Whilst this appetite for access may appear costly and impractical to feed in times of budget restraint, I am increasingly clear that there are some really big opportunities to be exploited. Keeping up with the times is not a new pressure on the budget - it could be the answer to our prayers.
 
This month, I issued an open letter to my county's residents - canvassing their views on the future of policing. I sketched out a plan to protect frontline neighbourhood policing whilst saving millions. Exploiting technology - opening up access to the police and their information - was a big part of the solution. The other side of the bargain was a much tougher take on how we fund everything behind that frontline. 
 
For instance, we spend £9m a year on buildings even though the evidence suggests this is no longer how people want to access their police. I am not prepared to keep ploughing public money into bricks and mortar whilst depleting the teams that fill those buildings.  In some ways, I don’t want to see officers indoors at all. I want to see them out in communities using the new technology-enabled fleet we have developed with business - a police station on the move in effect. 
 
Similarly, I have recently doubled virtual court capacity. Not only does dragging this 1990s technology into the nineteenth century environs of the courtroom expedite justice, it saves time and money. It gets the police back on the beat fast and looks set to improve justice outcomes too.
 
By investing in the people and in the kit in their pockets and vehicles, and by ensuring that we have fewer, better physical hubs, we have the chance to deliver radical savings in the police estate and behind the frontline whilst protecting the future of local policing.
 
So, despite the 'bleeding edge' lines in the press releases, I am aware that all we are doing is catching up with the ways that people have been communicating and accessing information for the past decade: dragging video conferencing into the court room; using smart phones and tablets to facilitate a mobile police station in the squad car; giving the public the self-service interface that they expect from the worlds of commerce and travel.
 
But it’s a start.
 
This article will appear in a Reform think tank publication in 2014 on Disruptive innovation in public services. For more information on Reform see www.reform.co.uk