Why GMP’s troubled iOPS computer system could stay in place for another 18 months

GMP’s troubled computer system could remain in place for another 18 months. That is despite the force recently announcing it was to be scrapped.

The £27m iOPS (Integrated Operational Policing System) system has been plagued with problems since it went live in July 2019, some 19 months behind schedule. Last month, Chief Constable Stephen Watson emailed staff to confirm GMP would be ditching the important PoliceWorks part of the system, which is key in the day-to-day running of the force.

GMP’s current contract for the PoliceWorks system comes up for renewal in June 2023. However, speaking during a phone-in on BBC Radio Manchester this, the Chief Constable revealed that it could take up to 18 months for the controversial morning system to be replaced.

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“It is still running and will continue to run for some time,” I explained. “Unfortunately with these things you can’t just switch it off and plug something new in.”

The Chief Constable said the force would be launching a tendering process and hoped to select a new system “as fast as possible”. But he added: “We cannot afford to mess this up, so whatever we buy is going to have to be fit for purpose and once it gets installed, it’s going to have to work. That will take probably 12 to 18 months.”

Chief Constable Watson warned that “a lot of training and technical work” would need to be done in preparation for a new system being brought in. The iOPS system went live under the watch of former chief constable Ian Hopkins, who wrote to MPs to tell them it was ‘not a disaster’.

GMP’s Chief Constable Stephen Watson

He was later forced out of his job following a damning watchdog report which revealed an estimated 80,000 crimes had not been properly recorded. His successor Stephen Watson, a year ago, almost immediately vowed to fix or replace it. iOPS has been causing officers intense frustration since it was introduced in the summer of 2019.

The part used by senior command and call handlers – known as ControlWorks – has largely been rolled out without too much issue, but PoliceWorks, which rank-and-file cops are meant to use day-to-day for investigations, intelligence and records, has been a major problem from the start.

A string of police whistleblowers came to the MEN to report their concerns but these were dismissed by force top brass at the time. Within days of its introduction they came forward in their droves to warn of its failures, while the policing watchdog would go on to hold it responsible for huge safeguarding backlogs and for potentially putting vulnerable people at risk as a result.

Mayor Andy Burnham insisted the computer system was ‘not a scandal’. One police officer told the MEN last summer that the damage done to public safety by iOPS had been ‘incalculable’, while the Home Secretary called it an ‘absolute scandal’ a few weeks later and pointed to ‘terrible, terrible leadership and decision-making’ ‘.

While senior cops including the then chief constable Ian Hopkins insisted its problems had been overblown, an inspectorate report found a huge drop-off in referrals to safeguarding agencies and victims’ services, leading it to conclude that victims had potentially been put at risk.

The computr system was brought in under former chief constable Ian Hopkins

The overall cost to the public purse of the system’s failure has never been disclosed, although many insiders have reported the price-tag spiraling from the £29m originally stated, partly due to the levels of overtime and legal advice prompted by its problems. Andy Burnham has last year said that some money had been clawed back from contractors, but no details have been disclosed.

Outlining the problems caused by iOPS, Chief Constable Watson said today: “It’s just been too slow. We’ve had officers sat in front of a blank screen watching a sort of whirling spiral of death – as it’s been described to me – for ages on end.

“That can’t happen, it’s got to be quick, it’s got to be instantaneous. There have been issues around counter-intuitive search descriptors and then there’s been the problem of returning different answers to the same query.

“That’s really important because we use these systems to manage and assess threat, risk and harm. It’s got to be quick, it’s got to be accurate and it’s got to be intuitive.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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