Police IT spending out of control, says Treasury

Police information technology spending appears to be out of control, according to a Treasury report. Treasury says the police have no coordinated IT spending strategy, and wants all such purchases to be specifically approved by the chief finance officer and the IT manager until such a strategy is formed. It also reveals a number of new IT spending initiatives by the police.

Police information technology spending appears to be out of control, according to a Treasury report.

Treasury says the police have no coordinated IT spending strategy, and wants all such purchases to be specifically approved by the chief finance officer and the IT manager until such a strategy is formed. It also reveals a number of new IT spending initiatives by the police.

The report was to have included an evaluation of the benefits of the $100 million INCIS project, but the police were unable to provide this in time. At the time (December), Treasury was told the police analysis would be completed by February. However, it is still not done and Deputy Police Commissioner Barry Matthews says it will now probably be mid-April before it is ready.

Co-ordination, or its absence, of INCIS with other IT spending is obviously a big issue. The delay in rolling the project out (from March to October this year) means the operating costs will precede the benefits, “thereby placing additional pressure on Police budgets”.

Meanwhile, Treasury says the police regions are spending money on machines that may be shortly replaced by equipment bought under INCIS.

Regional officers appear to buy computers if the money is there, but such purchases may be unnecessary given that 3000 PCs will be bought under INCIS. There is in general “a mismatch between resources and requirements".

“For example, national headquarters has 617 computers and 500 staff,” the report says.

It is also critical of some aspects of the computer despatch system, CARD, currently being implemented. The question of public access to the system, under an 0800 number, was not included in the business case for the $10 million-plus project.

In short, says Treasury, there is too much ad hoc buying. It points to the fact that Police will write off $500,000 in computer equipment this year as evidence of the need for tighter control.

One big project, hitherto unannounced, is a $35 million digital trunk radio network to improve the security of police radio.

Matthews was meeting with Treasury officials late last week to discuss the report. “I’m sure we will,” is his comment on the need for tighter control of IT spending.

“I think it’s fair to say that Police and Treasury views on some things are poles apart but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some things there we could do more efficiently.”

The $35 million digital trunk radio network, which the report says will be implemented this year, could in fact be some way off, he says.

“It could be 12 months, it could be four years, I don’t know. We’re still talking that one through. I think we’ve actually got a very good radio system, I think we’ve invested quite wisely there, but like all things with technology there are better versions of everything coming along and digital trunk radio is a way ahead.

It’s a question of weighing up just how quickly we need to get that.”

The network could be shared with fire, ambulance and defence services as an extra secure communications channel.

Criticism that IT spending by the police regions is too ad hoc and does not take into account upcoming purchases under INCIS has some validity, he says.

“But without digging deeper it’s difficult to know. For instance, INCIS doesn’t supply computers to clerical workers. INCIS is putting out 3000 machines but we’ve got just under 8500 people, and while some of those are in shift work and you’d have to take that into account there’s still a lot not covered by INCIS.”

As for the criticism over public access to CARD, Matthews says the police are looking at providing a national 0800 number for non-urgent calls. Police would keep the urgent 111 number (and 555 number for cellphones).

An 0800 service would, however, cost $800,000 or $900,000 to set up, and this cost was not built into the business case for CARD, he says.

Other big hikes in spending due to IT include a rise of nearly $3 million (a 250% increase) of leasing new technology, and a near doubling, to $2.7 million, of the cost of maintaining that leased technology.

The latest figures available, dating from 30 June 1996, indicate that the net book value of police communications assets is $12 million.

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