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Data sharing 'fear' will hamper forces on new statutory duties

Legal advice on data sharing is 'risk averse' and culture needs to change says think tank

The Open Data Institute, the think tank founded by the inventor of the web Sir Tim Berners-Lee and artificial intelligence expert Sir Nigel Shadbolt, called for a skills upgrade and change of approach by police forces. 

The think tank is currently working with the Metropolitan Police as part of an initiative to help forces understand better demands for data from other organisations and the public.

But it's not just a means of reducing the huge number of Freedom of Information (FoI) requests forces have to deal with.

Better sharing of data between police and other agencies is needed to tackle issues like youth offending – and forces are under pressure from the government with a new statutory duty to co-operate with other agencies to reduce serious crime.

Matt Davies, ODI Senior Policy Advisor said that openly publishing data on stop and search was one of many areas that need a rethink.

He told Police Oracle: “There's a particular issue with stop and account data. The Macpherson report, back in 1999, recommended that data on those stop and searches should be collected and published.

“But then in 2010, that requirement was lifted if police forces thought it was burdensome - so most of them stopped.”

He explained: “Obviously, having things like that help us to know whether police time has been well used. If there’s no data that really limits the sort of claims that can be made, and the sort of analysis that can be done. We think there's probably a need for taking a look at that more and a kind of holistic and structured approach to those duties.”

But partner agencies face the same difficulties. 

Whitehall departments and local authorities have ageing IT systems that don’t ‘talk’ to each other, ageing data sets and information being collated in different ways and kept in different places.

Agreements on shared IT systems across the public sector remain few due to security concerns and cost estimates.

Police Foundation Director Rick Muir told Police Oracle that a risk averse culture across government is a critical issue: “It’s a very long-standing problem. It’s the fear of what happens if something goes wrong. There’s a lot of risk aversion around information sharing.”

He added: “The legal advice is ultra-safe on data protection. The incentives are aligned with not sharing.”

Solutions are slowly taking shape – including investigators sharing buildings so they can share information informally. 

Rick Muir told Police Oracle: “The one thing that will make a difference is the new Serious Violence Duty – which was in the Sentencing and Crime bill – which puts a stronger duty on health, schools, local authorities and others to share information. That may well help.

He added: “Violence reduction units – and the organisations that can prevent offending - need to get a more comprehensive picture of the people they are regularly dealing with.”

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