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Profile: for the record

Superintendent James Fulton has had a career that has seen him heading up ACRO Criminal Records Office as well as leading the Central Referral Unit for freedom of information at the point when FOI had just gone live.

James Fulton joined the police in 1992 and was based in a station just north of Portsmouth. He worked his way up the ranks, and when he reached Chief Inspector he took on the role of Head of the Central Referral Unit for Freedom of Information - at a point when FOI had just gone live. 

“We were providing advice to all 43 forces on how you should answer freedom of information requests,” he told Police Oracle. 

“What you couldn't allow is one force to say, ‘Oh, this is the answer,’ and for others to say well ‘I'm not telling you anything,’ so we were the coordinator of all FOI requests for the whole of the UK.

“Some stuff would be ‘neither confirm nor deny’, but for plenty of it there was no risk in providing that information. These were the early days when people were very reticent to give anything out - but the law was the law.” 

Later, in 2016, James Fulton went over to be Head of ACRO - a role in which he ended up managing criminal records through Brexit and the Covid pandemic. 

There was a risk post-Brexit that the exchange of criminal records with the EU would become a lot harder. However, the decision was made to develop UKCRIS (UK Criminal Records Information System), which now runs parallel to ECRIS (European Criminal Records Information System). 

It means that the exchange mechanisms which existed through ECRIS are mirrored within the UK’s new system - taking the pressure off relying largely on Interpol. 

It equates to hundreds of thousands of criminal records, biometrics, names and criminal histories.

“Brexit caused all kinds of challenges,” James Fulton explained. 

“But for ACRO the automated processes of criminal record exchange across Europe has been retained, as well as the automated processes of us retrieving the records from each of the 43 forces and Police Scotland and PSNI. We suck that information from their custody systems, and then we send that out to the member states to get the results and update PNC.” 

He added that this took a lot of negotiating with member states alongside the Home Office, and also that there was a lot of work in developing potential other options, in case ECRIS was removed as an option, in case ECRIS was removed as an option. 

“One of the biggest challenges was that no deadline was ever right - how many times did we say this was the day we were going to leave the EU?” Supt Fulton said. 

“Lots of our systems had to be changed to adapt - there was a significant investment in upgrades. Certainly within ACRO, we breathed a very big sigh of relief when it was agreed that ECRIS would stay because, to a degree, our business processes would not change. But we had to always be prepared about what would happen otherwise.” 

Aside from Brexit, ACRO was also tasked during the pandemic with collecting fines for FPNs issued for breaching Covid regs – totalling more than 130,000 in England and Wales. 

ACRO immediately stepped in to administer the fines, allowing police officers to get on with the job of keeping the public safe.

The processing and payment of all fines were managed centrally by ACRO and at the height of the pandemic around 8,000 FPNs were received each week.

As well as the day-to-day management of the FPN process, ACRO stood up a contact centre to field calls from members of the public. 

A National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) commendation for ACRO was announced at the Operation Talla Awards in London on June 30.  

After the initial lockdown, James Fulton joined the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service (RCIPS) as a Strategic Policing Advisor. During which time he developed a number of workstreams including leadership, culture and performance management. 

Alongside a retired ACC from Merseyside, he implemented a change programme to improve their service delivery and training. 

It’s not the first time he has worked overseas, having co-ordinated projects in Albania and the Western Balkans, the wider Caribbean, as well as digitising Jamaica’s criminal record system which had previously been paper-based. 

“Albania, in relation to criminal records, was really good because it was based on old USSR systems where everything was kept. It was an old database but it was a system that was up to date." he says. 

“It was held by the prison service rather than the police so we did need to get politicians on board to gain access.

“When I started the police, did I ever think that 30 years later I'd be doing my last year as a superintendent in the Cayman Islands? Of course, I didn't,” he said. 

“I am a huge advocate of the support the UK provides to overseas policing, but also the skills that you bring back to UK policing having experienced how other jurisdictions operate.

“Any chance you get to see policing from others’ perspectives you bring an awful lot home - you share and impart your knowledge to others, but you also develop as a person.”

Further higlights from Supt Fulton's career 

He has been a uniformed officer for his full service. In addition to the National and International roles, he spent 8 years as a Sergeant in his home city of Portsmouth, was District Commander for Winchester and East Hampshire as well as 3 years as Commander for the city of Southampton. He says he thoroughly enjoyed his roles in Public Order and Public Safety (POPS) as serial Sergeant to Bronze Commander and for more than 14 years as POPS Silver.

Running his first command role as Portsmouth Football Club (his team of choice) the club returned the FA Cup to the city after victory in 2008 Final. Having been at the match himself as a spectator, he says it was a privilege to support the 200,000 fans celebrating the win on the open top coach tour of the city. His last duty in policing was as Silver Commander for Boomtown Music festival near Winchester which he had commanded for the previous 9 events. He describes it as "70K revellers in a very hot and dusty festival site earlier in August."

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