Police officers say IT system glitches responsible ‘for letting criminals off’


An IT system used by nine police forces across England and Wales is blighted with frequent crashes and is overly-bureaucratic to the extent it is slowing down the criminal justice system.

Officers speaking with the BBC's Victoria Derbyshire Show under the condition of anonymity accused the Athena platform, developed by Northgate Public Services, of creating problems due to a host of glitches.

"The first two weeks we had Athena brought in were probably the worst two weeks in my entire career. It has made an impossible job unbearable," one officer told the programme.

"It's overly bureaucratic. It doesn't understand the police investigative process at all. From day one, it malfunctioned. Four years on, it is still malfunctioning"

A range of problems can be traced to issues with the IT system, according to the officers, such as cases having to be dropped, or detainees missing their medication due to staff being unable to access their records.

It also often asks for data points that are totally irrelevant, such as the gender of an assigned solicitor, which if missed can lead to the whole case being rejected. Some cases, such as minor assaults, have had to be dropped due to the inadequacies of the system.

Meanwhile, processing a simple shoplifting incident exemplifies its sluggishness, according to one officer, as they would "have to press about 50 buttons, with a 30-second minimum loading time between each task".

Another police officer said: "It slows the whole criminal justice system down. At the moment, it is not fit for purpose. This is the most challenging time I have come across. We're at breaking point already. This has pushed some officers over the edge."

The Athena platform is just one of a multiplicity of IT systems deployed by police forces across the country and is understood to have cost 35 million over the last ten years.

The state of police IT previously came under fire in a report published by the Home Affairs Select Committee in 2011, which compared the digital landscape at the time to that of "an adolescent's bedroom".

The main reason for this is that the UK's 43 independent forces had a host of varied IT systems and IT contracts between them all.

IT Pro approached the Home Office and Northgate Public Services for comment.

Keumars Afifi-Sabet

Keumars Afifi-Sabet is a writer and editor that specialises in public sector, cyber security, and cloud computing. He first joined ITPro as a staff writer in April 2018 and eventually became its Features Editor. Although a regular contributor to other tech sites in the past, these days you will find Keumars on LiveScience, where he runs its Technology section.