Interview: Cops Tool Up to Do a Job On Data

Part of the challenge is that product of so much of today's police work now entails some form of digital product or audit trail.

When it comes to facing the technological challenges the near future will throw his way, the NSW Police's first CIO Tony Rooke has no doubts about the size of the project ahead of him. For the last few years, NSW police have been staring down the barrel of a major systems upgrade, forced along by a new range of mobile and front-end technologies that offer police more ability to gather, process and distribute and analyse information than ever before.

Fingerprint scanners, digital photographs, video and audio, data mining and real-time, suspect threat assessment all offer substantial benefits and savings to police in the field. However robust mianframes may be, they were never designed with such rich media content in mind.

"We typically transact with different types of data. We do a lot more with multimedia and that sort of thing than say a bank might do - where a mainframe might be better suited to their needs than they are to ours," Rooke says.

Part of the challenge is that product of so much of today's police work now entails some form of digital product or audit trail.

"A lot of that information ends up as evidence in court. The chain of evidence needs to be preserved. The security and integrity of that information has to be guaranteed at court, so there are a lot of processes involved in ensuring that takes place. That all specifically comes under the banner of the CIO in that it is all information.

"It's new types of information in a digital form that we have never had to deal with before. It's been paper or analogue [based]. Because of that, there are new approaches that we are developing as to how we will manage all that information in a centralised way," Rooke says.

This has meant insourcing and rebuilding a data centre from scratch, moving to load balancing rather than a "hot-cold" fail-over solution for business continuity, and rebuilding the IT security environment.

Another current challenge Rooke feels the police face is that of changing the large range of point-based IT solutions that have evolved into silos - especially applications.

"There is a big push, at least in the NSW government, to make the most of exchanging and sharing data rather than have those agencies recreate it themselves at taxpayer expense. One of the big things that we are pushing is putting in policies and consolidating the tools that we are using - the applications, whether it's a digital camera, a still picture or video, audio recording as well as other types of devices that generate digital data.

"We are looking very closely at all of our data models to make sure the information that is captured is put in standard formats so that other tools and systems can work with it - so there's interoperability of the data as well as systems," Rooke says.

Acutely aware of the cultural dramas that attempts to force-fit applications onto the workforce can (and have) thrown up in the past, Rooke says the days of getting the worker to fit the product are over.

"There's an iterative view of applications now. We are able to put an application [in the field] and people can say 'no, I don't like that'. We use some of the [area] commands as guinea pigs and we test things a lot more.

"The new tools allow those iterative-type applications to be developed and [to] make changes to the front screens [and] the forms a lot quicker so that you can customise, get it right and then roll it out across the rest of the state," Rooke says.

Meanwhile, those above Rooke are coming to grips with the fact that swelling the ranks of the force with people carries an information effect as well as a budget effect.

"There is a realisation that for every extra uniform that you create and put out on the street... there is a support infrastructure behind them. Not just with computers, but with uniforms and logistics and vehicles and everything that goes with it.

"We are never going to have a budget that will allow us to replace all our systems in one go. They're too big and too complex to do that. So creating fairly open but secure data repositories is one of our big drivers, as are the mechanisms by which we can exchange that data," Rooke says.

Asked if the push for interpretability will yield dividends, Rooke insists the imperative behind good data goes well beyond the IT shop.

"We have huge amounts of information already - whether it's in the mainframe or open systems, applications or databases. Our big challenge is to get that information to the front line in a meaningful way. So that [police] are not delving through screens and screens, but [they have] the most relevant information right in front of them.

"They are quite often looking to make life-and-death decisions based on this information - particularly if they are about to arrest someone, or they've just pulled over a car," he says.

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