It is two years since iOPS was launched, prompting an extraordinary flood of scared and angry police officers to blow the whistle. As the new Chief Constable weighs up whether to ditch the part that ‘doesn’t work’, the scale of its failures are still emerging
On July 9, 2019, a ‘transformational’ £29m new computer system was launched at Greater Manchester Police.
It was billed as the solution to its ageing and rickety IT network, which had been criticised repeatedly by the policing inspectorate, and as a game-changer that would catapult the force into the cutting edge of technology.
Police officers were unconvinced. Within days many had come forward to blow the whistle on the resulting chaos, describing an array of failures and warning of the potentially catastrophic impact on victims.
Social services departments, fearful that information about children at risk was getting lost, also raised the alarm.
A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then, including two deeply critical policing inspectorate reports – one of them specifically about iOPS, which found it had led to hundreds of vulnerable people being potentially put at risk; the other finding an estimated 80,000 crimes had not been recorded, ultimately leading to GMP being placed into ‘special measures’ – and a subsequent claim by Andy Burnham that the then-Chief Constable, Ian Hopkins, had not been upfront about the problems in the system.
Hopkins departed the force officially in March of this year. The mayor has said he told him to go.
In the background, iOPS has remained, quietly eating up officer time.
Despite technical fixes solving some problems, the PoliceWorks element used for recording crime and intelligence is no more popular than it was two years ago, thanks to its inordinately clunky nature. It remains ‘not fit for purpose’, believe those who use it.
“We spend so long inputting crimes, that you do maybe a quarter of what you would do, queues increase and there’s no time for intelligence submissions or crime actions,” says one officer.
As if to mark its own birthday, last week iOPS spat out a new crisis – although it looks a lot like an old one.
On Thursday the force found that around 5,000 pieces of intelligence had been hiding in the ether of the system, in echoes of warnings from the frontline that date back to at least early August 2019. (The very first police whistleblower to contact us in August 2019 stated: “Intelligence is not being transferred.”)
GMP doesn’t know what’s in that intel. A Gold strategy meeting was scrambled on Friday afternoon, followed by an email to officers from Assistant Chief Constable Nicky Porter.
“A significant amount of intelligence submissions have been recorded on our record management system but have not been finalised…these submissions are from a period dating 2019-2021,” she wrote.
In other words, thousands of initial tips and other background information had been entered at some point, never to be reviewed, actioned or completed. Anything could be in there – as one officer puts it, ‘we don’t know what we don’t know’. But given the nature of police intelligence, some of it could be life-saving.
An operation has now been launched to review every single item. GMP says some of the items of intelligence are ‘duplicates’, but of those that are not, it is currently ‘unable to say what risks may have been posed by the intelligence not being submitted or the records remaining incomplete’.
Officers are working through the backlog ‘as a matter of urgency’.
The deputy mayor for policing and crime, Baroness Beverley Hughes, called the situation ‘frankly unacceptable’, noting that it is ‘yet another serious issue with intelligence submissions at GMP’.
Both she and Andy Burnham had been given ‘categorical assurances’ by the force’s former leadership ‘that all intelligence data issues had been fully resolved the last time there was a failure of this kind’, she said.
“It is clear that this was not the case,” she added. GMP will now be required to provide a timeline and plan of action to ensure ‘it will never happen again’.
While GMP says it was only alerted to the issue by an officer on Thursday, the situation bears remarkable similarities to some of the warnings from the frontline within days and weeks of the system’s launch, as well as to the findings of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabularies, Fire and Rescue Services when it looked at iOPS in late 2019.
In August of that year, one officer told us the intel system kept going on and off, while many said it was so hard to input it information in the first place, a lot of it wasn’t being logged at all.
But of the information that was, much of it was not, at the time, being flagged with people for action. Others spoke of not having been trained in how to input it, with one speaking of ‘a black hole where the recent intelligence should be’ in December 2019.
In March last year, HMICFRS reported back on the impact of the system. The ‘most significant backlogs’ that had been identified in the previous 18 months as a result of iOPS included ‘the number of intelligence submissions awaiting assessment and evaluation’, it said.
The same month, the M.E.N. reported how 1,500 pieces of intelligence were in the system somewhere, but were invisible to cops.
One officer said of those items at the time: “They have been submitted, but for some reason have not been uploaded onto the system. This situation has been going on since last year.
“No one can see them. They cover firearms, child exploitation, criminal exploitation, drugs, all sorts.
“More reports are being submitted all the time and the queue is getting longer.
“The force seem to be in denial about it. It is sensitive information, which cannot be accessed. Yet we have been told it is not an IOPS issue.”
Whether this is precisely the same technical issue that surfaced last week is unclear, but GMP says it only became aware of the latest 5,000 hidden items of intel when an officer working on the system flagged it – two years and six days after it was launched.
“On Thursday 15th July 2021, GMP became aware of a significant backlog of intelligence submissions that had been recorded on the force’s data management system (dating from 2019-2021) but not finalised,” it said.
“Many submissions are a duplication of information already recorded on the system due to a crime or incident occurring.
“There are submissions that are stand alone and at this stage we are unable to say what risks may have been posed by the intelligence not being submitted or the records remaining incomplete.
“The priority now is to ensure all logs are assessed and any risks identified are addressed, and we have colleagues working through this backlog as a matter of urgency.
“This will have to be completed on a case by case basis but we would like to reassure the public, our staff and police officers that this remedial has already started, and we have already put a number of measures in place to prevent this from re-occurring in the future.
“In addition to resolving the issues caused by this backlog of submissions, we are also investigating the circumstances behind it so that we can clearly identify the exact cause.”
One officer says there was nothing about the revelation that surprised them, given that ‘lack of information’ in the system has been a problem from day one.
“iOPS makes it too hard,” they add of trying to add intelligence, “and people give up, resulting in unfinished entries or drafts.”
At the same time as officers are now working through the intel backlog, one cop told the M.E.N. earlier this month that the number of open crimes in iOPS had rocketed to 70,000 – twice as many as in October 2019, when the then-Chief Constable instigated Operation Alban to clear the queues.
Alban has now been re-instigated, it is understood, meaning officer time is also being spent going through those queues as well. But with the system’s design slowing everything down, all that is contributing to the huge pressures currently being seen by the force.
This was put to GMP, but the force did not reference it in its response.
If iOPS is still causing the force a headache, the landscape around it has certainly changed.
Those in charge – including the politicians in the mayor’s office – have begun acknowledging, since GMP was placed in special measures last December, that PoliceWorks is indeed a significant problem.
At the Manchester Arena Inquiry last week, Deputy Chief Constable Ian Pilling admitted Capita-built PoliceWorks was the ‘challenging’ part of the system, unlike the part used by command and control, which he called the ‘quality product’.
New Chief Constable Stephen Watson told Newsnight at the end of June that he had ordered a technical appraisal of PoliceWorks to see whether it can be salvaged, adding that he would be ‘in a position before too long to make an informed decision as to the future’.
“The information I do have tells me it doesn’t work,” he added.
So, two years on, the iOPS saga is still not over.
Multiple denials, millions in as-yet-unknown extra expenditure, a new Chief Constable and many hours of officer overtime later, perhaps it will be soon.
But the final word in this chapter should probably go to a junior police officer, who from the very first weeks of the system’s launch has been saying exactly what the new Chief is now saying: it doesn’t work.
“It’s self defeating and there is only one way this is going,” they say. “iOPS has to go.”
What the mayor’s office says
Bev Hughes, Deputy Mayor for Policing, Crime, Criminal Justice and Fire, said: “It is frankly unacceptable that there has been yet another serious issue with intelligence submissions at GMP.
“The Mayor and I were given categorical assurances by the previous leadership of GMP that all intelligence data issues had been fully resolved the last time there was a failure of this kind. It is clear that this was not the case.
“However, we are pleased that the actions being taken by the new Chief Constable are now uncovering these serious issues.
“I will now be requiring the force to present the Mayor and I with a timeline and plan of action to swiftly resolve this issue and ensure it will never happen again.”