The language of “Interoperability” in policing is quite new, although it’s a response to a very old problem. The need to do something about the inability of police systems to talk to each other has been a recurring plea from the front line for many years. In spite of many initiatives and programmes the frustrations of the front line haven’t gone away. This was made abundantly clear in the most recent Policing Insight survey, in which the need to log on separately to multiple systems, the common practice of double-keying of data and the inability to see a complete intelligence picture in one place, came in for strong criticism.

InterOp-Pol is the technology industry’s response to these issues. Early in 2019 a group of several dozen ICT companies came together at techUK, the trade body for the IT industry, to see what they could do to improve the interoperability of police systems. Of course, we understand that policing has special requirements – for security and accountability, etc. – but we also look at other industries where information moves much, much more freely between systems. Our ambition was to make a police user’s experience of their work technology much more like the experience they have with the apps and technology that sit on their private smartphones and tablets.

The result, InterOp-Pol, was discussed at a workshop we held in the autumn. Members agreed that it should be

An action group to accelerate the development of open standards for interoperability in policing, to enable sharing of data and information, to support efficient and effective policing.

We believe that technology companies have a responsibility to make data exchange and integration straightforward (and free). Most use a relatively simple mechanism to allow data to flow between systems called APIs (or Application Programming Interfaces) although there are other ways. We believe that it’s in the police users’ interests that companies should make their APIs freely available to each other, to enable technology driven collaboration to take place. Our vision is for an environment in which police users influence the market, by choosing to buy systems that make collaboration easy but in the short term there’s plenty we can do to influence that.

Our first step has been to produce the Interoperability Charter. It’s been produced by a working group of the TechUK Justice and Emergency Services Committee, although anyone can join in the initiative whether or not they are member. The charter is an ambitious manifesto for interoperability and we’re hoping that all the main IT suppliers to policing will sign up to it.

Although, as the charter points out, this is an entirely voluntary initiative, we hope it will come to carry the authority of a kite mark or government certification. Membership of the initiative will reassure police customers that the company involved is committed to working in a modern, open way – putting the needs of the front-line user first.

In the first instance, we’re looking for companies who supply IT solutions to policing (or who aspire to do so) to have a look at the charter. We’re keen to hear your feedback and to welcome you on board as signatories. And if there’s any reason you feel you can’t sign up, we’d be interested to hear why. We’re already holding conversations behind the scenes with leaders in the police ICT community and these will intensify as the Interop-Pol community grows. We think we owe it to front line staff to help improve their experience of technology. We hope you’ll agree with us and join us.