Police and Crime Commissioner Graham Bright Announces ALERT

Cambridgeshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner Graham Bright used the June 2013 Police and Crime Panel meeting to announce a new technology system for Cambridgeshire Police, called: “ALERT”.

Commissioner Bright told the panel that the system would enable neighbourhood watch groups to:

know the very next morning whether there’s been a burglary, whether there’s been some anti-social behaviour, a car stolen, or whatever the case may be, it’s there for them to see.

While I’m disappointed at the focus on neighbourhood watch groups rather than simply making the information available to the public at large, I think this approaches something I have been suggesting for some time, including in the run up to the Police and Crime Commissioner election: the publication of depersonalised, non-sensitive, information from the police incident log in a near real time manner (this happens in parts of the USA where “police blotters” are published [Example from Colorado Springs]).

The public increasingly get to have a say in policing, be it at the strategic level of participating in the Police and Crime Commissioner elections, or at local police priority setting meetings and it’s important that the public are able to participate from an informed position; making this kind of information available would inform people about what the police are actually doing in areas they have an interest in, such as where they live and work.

Ideally Commissioner Bright would ensure that police incident log data was separated as it was created into information which can be made public, and that which cannot, and the live data made available for people to use, and perhaps fed into the already hugely popular police.uk website.

I am concerned though that this is probably not the approach Commissioner Bright is taking. The question I have is:

Is Cambridgeshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner Graham Bright spending thousands of pounds with VISAV Limited to replicate the established and successful “ECops” messaging system which already exists in-house within Cambridgeshire Police?

That he is replicating ECops, looks like the most probable situation to me after having tried to interpret some of the Commissioner’s rather incoherent, and often inaccurate and internally inconsistent, ramblings at the June 2013 Police and Crime Panel meeting.

Commissioner Bright told the Police and Crime Panel on the 12th of June 2013 that he was introducing the new system called “ALERT”; however as he described it, ALERT was an acronym (which it doesn’t appear to be with the VISAV Limited Neighbourhood Alert system), and he described it has having many more features than the VISAV system.

The only benefit I can see of the VISAV Limited system, over the one Cambridgeshire Police already have in-house and have been using for many years, is that it publishes the messages online (recent messages can be viewed on their website), and allows comments to be made on them in public. This is something I would value greatly, but it would be a simple addition to the existing system, I myself published Cambridge’s ECops messages for some time (View an example message).

If an open data feed was provided it could be consumed and automatically republished by newspaper websites in the county, the ShapeYourPlace websites, local council, including parish council websites. Open data might well result in information being used on resident association websites as well as in email and offline publications too. Campaign groups such as the various local cycling campaigns might extract, publicise, analyse and invite comments on incidents of interest to them; quite what people might do with the data cannot be imagined.

Unfortunately it appears Commissioner Bright is to hand the valuable data, generated by the taxpayer funded police force, to a private company, to exploit. Unlike with ECops it appears the messages sent via the “Neighbourhood Alert“web service from VISAV Limited do not contain encouragement, and permission, to forward them on to others and otherwise re-use the content.

The “ALERT” system as described, and the VISAV system, which may be one and the same, enable users to send messages to the police and other “authorities”. When users send messages to the authorities via the VISAV Neighbourhood Alert system, I note neighbourhood watch groups are listed in the terms and conditions along with the police and council environmental health teams as those who can receive such messages from those who use the system to report crimes, suspicions, and concerns and these groups may receive the users’ personal information.

A paper on the Commissioner’s “Engagement” Strategy presented to his private “Business Co-ordination Board” in April 2013 states:

The Commissioner supports the introduction of the Neighbourhood Alert system to facilitate the effective response to crime and issues community safety, this improving the quality and quantity of information provided to and received from Neighbourhood Watch

This suggests that it is the VISAV Limited Neighbourhood Alert system which he is proposing and not another system described by the acronym: “ALERT”.

Commissioner Bright said that the Cambridgeshire system would only provide information to Parish Councils, Neighbourhood Watch members and Cambridge Business against Crime, he appeared to suggest the wider public would not receive information from it, though he did mention the public once. If Commissioner Bright’s “ALERT” system is not to provide information to the public then it may be possible to use the dataset provisions of the FOI Act expected to come into force soon to require the data used for the system be published, in a reusable form, live, so that others can access it too.

When asked by a Police and Crime Panel member about the interaction, and overlap, between his proposed new system and the established Ecops email system the commissioner floundered; he appeared not really be aware of the established system and claimed to have no responsibility for it.

The Ecops system has an established user base in Cambridgeshire; if there is to be a migration to a new system a key question is if the existing users will be moved over without having to re-register.

The Commissioner stated ECops will continue unchanged, alongside the “ALERT” system. This appears indicate there will be lots of inefficient duplication of effort. I have suggested for some time that it makes no sense to have different systems, and different people, communicating with neighbourhood watch, and groups like CamBAC to those who communicate with the wider public via Ecops especially as the messages, and information, they are sending out is very similar.

Transcript of Relevant Elements from the Police and Crime Panel

Police and Crime Commissioner Graham Bright (Conservative)
…and of course the software we have now got for Neighbourhood Watch will dramatically benefit how we engage with the public.

It’s a piece of software called “ALERT”. Don’t ask me what it stands for, what it means, other than it is: “ALERT”.

And it’s actually a very very good piece of software, it was developed by the Home Office specifically for Neighbourhood Watch.

Now it enables them to administer themselves.

What it does is enable the police to input to that on a daily ongoing basis what has been happening right across the county so the neighbourhood watch people don’t have to wait for a meeting in the village hall to find out what is happening – they know the very next morning whether there’s been a burglary, whether there’s been some anti-social behaviour, a car stolen, or whatever the case may be, it’s there for them to see.

And the police can flag up if they’re looking for extra information so you can get feedback immediately on that. There’s been such a big time lag before with the way in which it was organised.

I think that the really good thing about it is that more people will get involved. Because we’ve had business people saying well I never had time for Neighbourhood Watch but I could do this because I can come on, put the computer on in the morning, and have a look.

There’s a lot of concern about business crime, so that’s taken that on board.

A lot of the Parish Councils have said: “my goodness this is great because we can be up to speed”. This is administered by Neighbourhood Watch, not us. And they’ve got that on board; they’re excited about it.

The other thing it does again is bring in people who have not got time to belong and go to meetings in the evening, particularly young mums, and in trial we did where you’ve got young mums who’ve caught on to this of course they’re at the school gates in the morning and are probably the best networkers in the county, everyone knows what is happening and if you are trying to get information then there’s more chance of getting it than we had before. So I’m very excited about that.

It’s still not fully operational yet, but it’s partly operational and its being worked on and will be I think within the next month we’ll be totally operational on that.

I think that it is going to bring a lot of rewards to us.

Councillor James Palmer (Conservative)
A question on neighbourhood watch.

You get this feeling within the community that perhaps it is something that is past its sell by date to a certain extent, the initial raft of Neighbourhood Watch ideas and panels and stuff was set up twenty five years ago.

Do you feel it is still relevant?

Police and Crime Commissioner Graham Bright (Conservative)

I think it is very relevant for the reason that I did what I did in persuading them to have the software which didn’t cost us anything because the Home Office provided it. It cost us the licence fee for the police to get the data in. That wasn’t a vast amount. My idea of doing that was to give a new look. To bring new people. We’ve got business people involved, we’ve got mums involved, and now one of the things I’ve always wanted to do is reach out to parish councils. It gives them an instant view as to what is happening in their neighbourhood so they can sort of get involved. That I think does give a complete new lease of life.

We’ll obviously be monitoring that. My belief is that in a year’s time we’ll be able to show quite clearly that we’ve been able to engage with the public than we’ve ever done in the past.

And that is what it is all about because there are thousands of eyes and ears out there who can help police with the information. We want to try and sort of attract them and tell them exactly what it is that we’re looking for.

If you have difficulties in any particular village, and this comes out in waves you know, if you’ve got everyone looking out for it.

Councillor James Palmer (Conservative)
Are you convinced this is more than skin deep?

Police and Crime Commissioner Graham Bright (Conservative)

In other parts of the country.

I looked at it in Derby and they couldn’t stop raving about it there. They are actually way underway, they’ve been underway there for nine or ten months and it’s got so much more involved and the police find it extremely helpful and so do the local authorities because they’re that far ahead of everything that’s happening and getting to look at it. That sort of. I was convinced it was going to be a good thing anyway but having talked to somebody who had used it in Derbyshire and there in Derbyshire you’ve got Derby city and lots of rural as well and just like us.

So it hasn’t cost us a fortune.

The software was absolutely free to everyone who is using it outside. It cost us I don’t know how much off hand, about ten thousand pounds for the police to have the licence to use it.

And it will be even more of a joined up thing when we get the new software of all the police having a smartphone. All that information coming in, because the interesting thing, whatever you put on “ALERT” will go to them anyway, so they’ve got it there and then, and they don’t only use that as a way of reporting back in and sending a report one of the things we’re interested in doing is getting them to actually make their report while they’re outside, so keep them outside, so they can sit outside a coffee bar or you know in a car in a corner they’re still going to be there.

That’s all of that is logged in the computer and they can see what is happening around them as well as anyone else can.

It’s going to save a huge amount of man hours it really is. The number I was given was something like thirty-eight thousand man hours which is incredible. So therefore we’re going to have a much more efficient force.

Councillor Michael Frederick Shellens (Liberal Democrat)
I’m concerned about what you’ve said about information automatically recorded and popping up because I’ve had experience of systems where the whole operation has just collapsed under the weight of information, unfiltered, which has just come in, and therefore you’re getting irrelevant information, which just slows you down.

And my third question and I apologise I’m a new boy and if I’m asking silly questions I’ll learn and then I’ll ask silly questions with experience but whether there’s a difference between “ALERT” and Ecops which I get useful information from and feed information on a regular basis back

Police and Crime Commissioner Graham Bright (Conservative)
Totally different.

“ALERT” is out there which is there for the public.

ECINs is not there for the public.

Police and Crime Commissioner’s Chief Executive
[Whispers inaudibly]

Police and Crime Commissioner Graham Bright (Conservative)
Oh sorry ECops.

ECops that’s a separate thing. We’re ummm I haven’t got involved in that. That is there. And it was there and it is not part of my jurisdiction.

Councillor Michael Frederick Shellens (Liberal Democrat)
Well I get information, overnight, if there’s been a burglary…

Police and Crime Commissioner Graham Bright (Conservative)
Fine. Well we’ll do a lot better once we get “ALERT” going. And I recommend it to you, we can always give you a, you know, a sort of show on that.

Councillor Ben Shelton (Conservative)
Two things. Briefly. The first thing is about Neighbourhood Watch. I don’t think necessarily it needs to be measured by success of an outcome. The idea as I see it is about encouraging reporting. If for example you have more encouraging of reporting you get a hundred calls that may be totally irrelevant but you may get that one thing that just links something together and I think that’s the important and that’s the way I’d be looking at it.

Police and Crime Commissioner Graham Bright (Conservative)
Absolutely right.

Councillor Mac McGuire (Conservative)
That’s a comment rather than a question.

Police and Crime Commissioner Graham Bright (Conservative)
And it’s the right comment.

Councillor Ben Shelton (Conservative)
The second point is on business crime. In South Cambs We did a piece of work with a dedicated officer and a dedicated PCSO. South Cambs was a victim of rural business crime because we did that piece of work last year it has reduced by about thirty percent within the last year or eighteen months so it just goes to show that with some support it can work.

Further Comments

If as the Commissioner said the software was developed by the Home Office, and the software in question is the “Neighbourhood Alert“web service being peddled by VISAV Limited then there’s a question of why a private company is profiting from selling software developed by the Home Office.

The Commissioner stated his “ALERT” enables the administration of Neighbourhood Watch groups, this does not appear to be a function of the “Neighbourhood Alert“web service being peddled by VISAV Limited.

The Commissioner stated his “ALERT” system is to be administered by Neighbourhood Watch; this does not appear to be the case with the “Neighbourhood Alert“web service being peddled by VISAV Limited.

The Commissioner mentioned he has trialled his “ALERT” system, yet there are no details of this anywhere. There are currently, at the time of writing, only twoalerts tagged “Cambridgeshire” on the “Neighbourhood Alert“web service being peddled by VISAV Limited.

Commissioner Bright stated, in relation to his “ALERT” system:

My belief is that in a year’s time we’ll be able to show quite clearly that we’ve been able to engage with the public than we’ve ever done in the past.

However he didn’t mention any general public access to the system, just parish councils, neighbourhood watch, and businesses.

There’s only one active neighbourhood watch group I’ve heard of in Cambridge, and no parish councils, so if Commissioner Bright’s “ALERT” system will come to the City of Cambridge, other than to businesses through CamBac isn’t clear.

Commissioner Bright has stated:

The software was absolutely free to everyone who is using it outside.

Does he merely mean by this there’s no charge to view content on, or register for alerts, with the “Neighbourhood Alert“web service being peddled by VISAV Limited?

A final key question I have is if crime reported made via “ALERT” will be recorded.

There are currently no upcoming events listed on the Police and Crime Commissioner’s Calendar where I, or anyone else, will be able to see clarification from the Commissioner on his proposals in public.

With the notable exception of Cllr Shellens who queried the relationship with ECops, none of the other members of the Police and Crime Panel asked any probing questions at all about Police and Crime Commissioner Bright’s “ALERT” system during their meeting.

36 responses to “Police and Crime Commissioner Graham Bright Announces ALERT”

  1. VISAV Limited have published a PDF overview of their Neighbourhood Alert system on their website. The document they have published openly on the web is marked “commercially confidential” on every page. If they can’t manage their own commercially confidential information that doesn’t give much confidence they’ll be good custodians of their users’ personal information.

    The PDF includes a description of a mobile app. It states:

    The smart phone app will also plug into the Alert emergency planning modules to enable messages to be sent based on the user’s actual position (not just Home or Work address).

    It also reveals a feature for using data from the credit agency Experian to determine how “representative” users are of the population in an area.

    VISAV also assure their potential customers that they’ve provided the Information Commissioner with a copy of the Data Protection Act:

    All documents, data and software are kept under secure conditions satisfactory to the DPA of which the Information Commissioner has been supplied.

    The document also suggest VISAV view social media as being for broadcast only, as shown by the language :

    Alert enables you to build your own secure database but send messages into the social media environment

    The section on system security makes no mention of encryption; or on control of access to reports (which will be especially hard to control if Neighbourhood Watch volunteers are to be given privileged access). Instead there is a photograph of the data centre vault door.

    It appears to me this company has come up with a way to print money, especially as it suggests not only have they got police forces to pay £10K, but local councils and others are signing up for access too.

  2. If Commissioner Bright is promising that neighbourhood watch groups will know the morning after if there has been a burglary in their area, then the Cambridgeshire “ALERT” system must be more comprehensive than those being used elsewhere, or the commissioner may have exaggerated or misunderstood what he is spending the £10K on.

    Will all burglaries be reported via the system? All stolen vehicles? All anti-social behaviour?

  3. In a report in today’s Cambridge News (hard copy, can’t find it on line), apparently about the same system, Insp. Paul Ormerod (safer neighbourhood manager) says “It is for everyone and it’s a two-way system so that people can report crime or incidents using it as well as keep up to date with what is happening in their area. There is a ;list of interests that can be ticked so that specific crimes can be sent to the user.” Neighbourhood Watch Groups are mentioned only in passing and “individuals can receive electronic crime alerts, witness appeals,” etc. So the reported emphasis on NWGs may just be the Commissioner’s private obsession.

    • I suspect the Police and Crime Commissioner doesn’t have a good grasp of what it is he is spending money on and promoting.

      The reason why I am focusing on the Neighbourhood Watch is that the “Neighbourhood Alert” system as used elsewhere enables Neighbourhood Watch members to *receive* reports of crimes and incidents from the public and access personal details of members of the public.

    • Following Keith Edkins’ comment I’ve just been out and spent an astronomical 60p on a hard copy of the Cambridge News. (I think it’s gone up since I last bought it?).

      The article is present on p5 with the headline “Crime as it happens – straight to your phone”. The article is accompanied by a badge stating: “Have your say Comment on this story on Cambridge-news.co.uk” even though it is not, as Mr Edkins points out, available online.

      Little new information is revealed in the article; though it does say it is set to be launched in August.

      The question of who is to receive reports from the public is fudged, it states:

      It can also be allied to the fire service, Cambridgeshire County Council, Neighbourhood Watch and Community Safety Partnerships run by local authorities

      What “allied” means isn’t explained.

      Inspector Ormerod is quoted as saying “We don’t have a name for it yet but it will be something like Cambridgeshire Alert”.

    • There is something else new in the article: it says pub and club goers will be able to get “up to the minute” information on their phones, suggesting the information will be live or in near real time.

  4. A report from the Chief Constable to the Commissioner’s private “Business Co-ordination Board” meeting in May 2013 contains some further information on ALERT:

    3.1 Neighbourhood Alert is a web-based community messaging and communication IT system, which will enhance two-way information flow between the Constabulary, Neighbourhood Watch schemes, Key Individual Networks (KINs), and local residents and businesses.

    3.2 Currently e-Cops is used as the sole community messaging system for the Constabulary. However e-Cops does not allow the bespoke messaging of particular community groups, is not easy to use, and does not link to social media, or allow easy access to membership / subscriber information.

    3.3 The Constabulary is purchasing a full ‘User License’ for Neighbourhood Alert, and the price of this for Cambridgeshire has been based on a calculation of 321,000 households. This equates to a cost of £8,525 per annum, plus £8,410 as a one-off set up fee. The one-off set up fee would include transfer of existing Cambridgeshire contact details (data) to the Alert system, staff training on use of the system, and mapping of all data utilising GIS. It is also possible to extend the license to allow the Office of the Police & Crime Commissioner (OPCC) to also make use of the Neighbourhood Alert System.

    3.4 The vision of engaging more effectively with communities, and developing Watch schemes and volunteers (as set out in the Police & Crime Plan) requires an effective two-way communications system to be achieved.
    Neighbourhood Alert delivers the following functionality, which is not currently provided by any single Constabulary system:

    • Effective messaging of communities by interest group, Mosaic profile or membership of Watch scheme
    • Maintains and manages contact details for Watch schemes and community groups
    • Allows community groups and Watch schemes to access and manage their own membership details, and send messages to these members
    • Messages by e-mail, Facebook and Twitter using one single portal
    • Allows cross-border crime alerts and messages to be received in those border areas of the Constabulary
    • Links with the national Our Watch and Business Watch systems
    • Is a genuine two-messaging system, which allows community members to generate messages and reports, rather than only being able to reply to a message received
    • Links with the Constabulary Mosaic License, to make use of this socio- demographic information for messaging and survey work
    • Provides detailed information around engagement, and analysis of this
    • Branded microsites for different geographical or thematic interest groups (e.g. Local Area Commands, Countryside Watch, Neighbourhood Watch)
    • Access available for any member of staff / department (incl. CIB, Corporate Communications, CPD) to utilise Neighbourhood Alert for their own messaging.

    3.5 Neighbourhood Alert (which was developed and funded by the Home Office in 2011) is also being utilised by Bedfordshire to manage and communicate with their Neighbourhood Watch schemes.

    It appears the commissioner’s misunderstanding of “ALERT” as an acronym could have derived from the title of this section of the report. It could also have been the source of the suggestion the Home Office developed the software.

    Having read the section I am left wondering who “Key Individual Networks” comprise of.

    I also note the pricing given: £8,525 per annum, plus £8,410 as a one-off set up fee is in excess of the £10,000 quoted by the Police and Crime Commissioner (and significantly more than “free” which he also stated).

    I also note:

    The one-off set up fee would include transfer of existing Cambridgeshire contact details (data) to the Alert system

    I think this is a good thing, but hope people are asked prior to their personal information is handed over to the private company running the scheme.

    The “Mosaic licence” refers to data from the credit reference agency Experian.

  5. On the 14th of June 2013 Cambridgeshire Neighbourhood Watch Co-ordinator John Fuller was interviewed by Chris Mann on the BBC Radio Cambridgeshire drivetime show:

    Chris Mann
    A new technology system is to be introduced for Cambridgeshire Police called “ALERT”. It will enable neighborhood watch groups to know which crimes are being committed in their area. Let’s find out more now from the County Chairman of Neighbourhood Watch John Fuller. Hello John.
    John Fuller
    Oh Hi Chris, Good Evening.
    Chris Mann
    You’ve just heard quite a shocking story about how that Co-Op was held up in Peterborough could “ALERT” have helped in any way?
    John Fuller
    I think “ALERT” could help because what “ALERT” will do, it will enable the police to be able to quickly and efficiently get messages out to our members seeking their very early assistance. Clearly they have systems at the moment but my knowledge of those would suggest that it can take some time to get some urgent appeals out.
    Chris Mann
    So how does “ALERT” work?
    John Fuller
    “ALERT” works, it’s a, it’s err a basically it’s a it’s a database system which is administrated by County Neighborhood Watch themselves, so it provides a very important role to enable us to administrate us ourselves which currently the constabulary do. More importantly it provides a portal to the constabulary. The constabulary now are going to take their own license out. So an officer sitting in an office wherever they are in the county will be able to very quickly once trained obviously pull up a message template and get messages out into a geographic area extremely quickly.

    Now depending on how the system is set up one type message could actually be sent out by phone, by text and by email simultaneously almost at the touch of a button.
    Chris Mann
    This doesn’t sound too different as I understand it to the thing called ECops which is already running here in Cambridgeshire.
    John Fuller
    ECops is actually quite dated and I have quite a lot of experience of ECops myself in terms of sending messages out because I used to be working with the constabulary. And I know they can take an awfully long time to be able to get messages out into a particular area. It is quite bureaucratic to define down into particular areas and so on. The beauty of the “ALERT” system is it cuts through all of that. It enables not only people to manage their own accounts, and for us to do that, but for individuals to bespoke what messages for instance they would like to see; let me give you an example for instance, if by registering onto the alerts system you are interested in err it maybe gardening, fishing, allotments or whatever you can actually subscribe to receive information about crimes in a certain category so you’re not loaded with every single piece of information and also as I say ECops can be acc… the way it is constructed at the moment take an awfully long time to actually send messages to vast areas of the county.
    Chris Mann
    John, there is a security issue of course, that the right people and only the right people are getting this information.
    John Fuller
    Well the information that is sent out by the police to ECops now you have the same issue. Anybody can sign up for ECops we don’t know who they are or what their backgrounds are so the information which goes out to ECops is couched in a way so that any individual can receive that information. “ALERT” actually for those members who wish to receive it is no different, but as far as neighborhood watch is concerned, those who put themselves forward to co-ordinate groups and areas on behalf of others are generally known to other members of Neighbourhood Watch within the county organisation or certainly to their local police and PCSOs and therefore the same conditions will apply. The important thing is Neighbourhood Watch co-ordinators have volunteered to help. We call ourselves active citizens. Those who are currently registered on ECops generally the constabulary do not know who they are because anybody can register.
    Chris Mann
    OK. John the point’s well made, the Chairman of Neighbourhood watch for Cambridgeshire John Fuller about the “ALERT” system which will officially be introduced I think in August.

    • The Home Office responded to say:

      The Home Office does not hold the information which you have requested. The software referred to: ‘Neighbourhood Watch’ was developed and is owned by one of the top four database companies. The Home Office was not involved in this development. ”

  6. One of those who may receive personal information under the scheme, Brian Robins, who describes himself as being from Cambridge, and Ex Police Officer as well as a neighbourhood watch coordinator has taken exception to my article in a series of tweets.

    Notably during the exchange BBC Presenter Chris Mann Tweeted:” Dull. Stop copying me in”; though he didn’t reply to the messages or mention any others included in them. This raises the question of how to effectively respond to challenges made on, including to those those challenges are copied to, Twitter without unnecessarily annoying those not interested in the exchange.

  7. Liberal Democrat Policing Spokesman Rupert Moss-Eccardt has suggested, perhaps mischievously, that based on the reports what Commissioner Bright is proposing cannot be the VisaV Neighbourhood Alert system:

    My view is the reports are erroneous and the confusion has arisen due to Commissioner Graham Bright not understanding what is being proposed and therefore misleading the Police and Crime Panel. I would be surprised if the system turned out to be comprehensive (as the Commissioner suggested to the panel) or near real time as suggested by the Cambridge News article.

  8. During the adjournment debate in Parliament on the 24th of June 2013 Policing Minister Damian Green appeared to possibly be referring to Cambridgeshire’s ALERT system saying:

    Sir Graham Bright, the Conservative PCC from Cambridgeshire, has begun work to exploit better the existing IT systems to provide the opportunity to automate and improve the flow of information across the force. That work is designed to get key information to the officer on the beat when they need it and provides the opportunity for the public to access the police quickly through digital means.

    However the minister appears to be under the impression Graham Bright is doing the smart thing of making existing systems work better. This suggests that the commissioner cannot be simply buying the Neighbourhoood Alert system from VISAV; perhaps he is also working on a way of automatically exporting data in real time from existing police systems; in which case this would be very exciting.

    It’s a pity there’s no clarity forthcoming on what exactly is being proposed.

  9. There was also a statement, late last night, from Keith Vaz, the Chair of the home affairs committee. It was made to an empty House apart from a couple of MPs on the government benches. Vaz was very critical of the unaccountability of most Police and Crime Commissioners, was damning of the ineffectual nature of police and crime panels and highly critical of the various appointments as deputies and assistants across the country, irrespective of political loyalty. The fact there were so few present to hear what was a powerful statement is just as worrying.

  10. My attention has been drawn to a competing product: “Online Watch Link” and told it “does not commercialise any watch members’ data and is the only system of its kind to have passed a Government CESG security test.”


    An article on the OWL system states:

    It’s a highly secure system that passed GCHQ’s CESG test, is MoPI compliant, and has a capacity for millions of records with daily automated encrypted backups

    I wonder if we will ever find out if Cambridgeshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner considered the costs and benefits of various options available to him (including developing ECops into a competitive product which he could sell to other forces).

  11. What is interesting is that Sir Graham seems to be spending public money on a whim with no clear governance. What is more interesting that he isn’t using the Police IT Company despite being an owner and Director. Clearly he lacks self-confidence

  12. The Home Office have responded to my FOI request to state:

    ” The Home Office does not hold the information which you have requested. The software referred to: ‘Neighbourhood Watch’ was developed and is owned by one of the top four database companies. The Home Office was not involved in this development. “

    If this response is accurate, then the Chief Constable misled the Police and Crime Commissioner who then misled the Police and Crime Panel.

    I would personally be very surprised if, as suggested by the Home Office response VISAV Ltd are acting as a front for Microsoft, ORACLE, IBM or the like.

    I suspect the Home Office made a typo referring to the software as “Neighbourhood Watch” rather than “Neighbourhood Alert”.

  13. The Neighbourhood Alert website now features Cambridgeshire Police’s Ecops on their home page:

    screenshot of https://www.neighbourhoodalert.co.uk

    This is confusing as ECops is something developed in-house by Cambridgeshire Police.

    A report from the police to the Police and Crime Commissioner dated the 22nd of July 2013 states:

    3. Neighbourhood Alert Implementation

    3 .1 An implementation has recently been established which is meeting bi – weekly with a view to hastening implementation of Alert. Work is going according to plan and the supplier has confirmed details of the site build. There will be an overarching site which have a more generic feel and which will fit with future plans to engage other partners in Alert. Users visiting this site will be able to select which site they wish to join i.e. Cambs Alert, Neighbourhood Watch or E-Cops. It is hoped that a trial site will be available to view by 22nd July.

    3.2 A joint communications strategy will be produced for the Constabulary and the OPCC and the agreed milestone plan will be live in August. While the Alert site is planned to be avail able sooner the deadline for completion of the tasks associated with the site is the middle of August. The milestone plan includes tasks such as developing and implementing a Neighbourhood Alert Strategy and a communications/marketing strategy, along with sign off protocols and access agreements which will be produced as part of a “rules and conventions‟ document

    My view is presenting the public with three different systems to choose between to obtain updates from the police will be very confusing.

  14. The system appears to have been launched, branded as Ecops, in contrast to what the commissioner told the Police and Crime Panel.

    One of the first messages has been sent by Paul Rogerson (Police, Sgt, South Cambridgeshire) and reads:


    I am test the Neighbourhood alert system, could you reply please?


    The system’s webpage states it is “powered by” Neighbourhood Alert.

    LibDem Rupert Moss-Eccardt has questioned the excessive data collection on sign-up:

    • The terms and conditions make clear registration is not open to all, but one has to “apply” to sign up and :

      1.3 – All applications are forwarded to the system administrator for approval.

      1.4 – Approval is at the discretion of the system administrator.

      It will be interesting to see if the local press are willing to sign up to terms and conditions which require:

      Messages are sent to keep members of the public up-to-date with what is going on and must not be used in a manner as to unduly raise the fear of crime.


      Whereas the Commissioner stated the system would enable people to:

      know the very next morning whether there’s been a burglary, whether there’s been some anti-social behaviour, a car stolen, or whatever the case may be, it’s there for them to see.

      the new website’s terms and conditions state:

      The administrators and Information Providers make no promise or guarantee that you will be warned about imminent, past or present incidents

  15. The email sent to existing eCops subscribers reads:

    As of today, eCops, the email messaging service dedicated to sending information and appeals, direct to you, is moving to the Neighbourhood Alert platform.

    As an existing eCops subscriber you will have the opportunity to enhance the message service you receive from Cambridgeshire Constabulary by selecting the message types and information of particular interest to you.

    As well as keeping you up to date, we want to be able to ask your opinion on policing and what we can do to make our services more effective for you, when you need us.

    Registering with the new eCops system

    As an existing eCops subscriber, all you need to do is click the link below to go to the eCops registration page and follow the instructions, to continue to receive messages from Cambridgeshire Constabulary.

    We recommend you add alert@neighbourhoodalert.co.uk into your address book or to your list of safe senders, to ensure you receive our messages.

    eCops will be part of the Neighbourhood Alert System which is the official database for Neighbourhood Watch via the Home Office recognised ‘Neighbourhood and Home Watch Network (England and Wales)’and closely adheres to the Data Protection Act and the host company VISAV was awarded the ‘Secured by Design’ licence.

    Our privacy policy is detailed at the bottom of this email.

    Cambridgeshire Constabulary

    http://www.ecops.org.uk – Sign up now to continue to receiving eCops emails
    http://www.cambs.police.uk/privacy.asp – Cambridgeshire Constabulary’s privacy policy

    That the old and new systems are both called eCops is quite confusing.

    I wonder if:

    closely adheres to the Data Protection Act

    means “almost complies with the law”.

    I also wonder about the meaning of:

    Neighbourhood Alert System which is the official database for Neighbourhood Watch

  16. Another early message informally signed off “Chris and Gary” states:

    This is our first message on what comes under the banner of “Neighbourhood Alert” but will retain the ecops brand.

    Chris and Gary state re-registering is required:

    Clearly, if you are reading this you have already signed up but please encourage others that in order to continue to receive ecops they will need to reregister here.

    It appears madness to me for the police to stop contacting hundreds of people who’ve signed up to receive messages from the police. This transition has been badly handled; the commissioner appears to have taken his eye off the ball.

    The police have removed their Ecops webpage even though it had a good prominence in Google and is linked from council websites.

  17. A message has been sent :

    Hello Members

    There are no crimes report this week for the Eynesbury area which are considered to affect the community.

    If you wish to report a crime or have information regarding a crime please telephone 101.


    PCSO 7031 Lauren Bachman
    St Neots Police Station

    This suggests the notifications are not comprehensive; but an assessment is being made as to if crimes “affect the community” before sending messages.

    Other messages report no crime at all in Little Paxton or Kimbolton.

    Where comprehensive information on crimes is claimed it appears crazy to provide the information in free text form rather than in a format enabling easy sorting, mapping and use.

  18. As yet there have been no messages sent by the new system within Cambridge.

    Sgt Wragg was questioned about this at the North Area Committee on the 3rd of October 2013

    • The meeting minutes completely miss the point of the question – which was specifically about the move to the new “ALERT” system and why Cambridge officers have not started to use it yet.

      p7 of the minutes state:

      5. Councillor Kerr: Asked for an update on E-Cops
      The Neighbourhood Policing Sergeant confirmed that it remained a very useful resource for the public and the police.

      This element of the minutes was agreed without correction by all councillors. I suppose it is technically accurate, but given the main point of the question, and the answer, has been omitted it is not a fair reflection of what was said.

  19. At Cambridge’s North Area Committee on the 20th of March 2014 Police and Crime Commissioner Graham Bright said:

    Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Commissioner Graham Bright: Neighbourhood Watch now have their own software so they are aware of what’s going on, what’s happening, in the morning you can look to see if there’s been any incident in your street, in your neighborhood and the police flag up if they are looking for particular people or looking for sort of extra information.

    It just doesn’t appear to be true to me that “in the morning you can look to see if there’s been any incident in your street. “. I think this facility would be fantastic, but it doesn’t exist. The alerts made public are not this comprehensive or localised. Police and Crime Commissioner Bright appears to be making a claim which isn’t true; I suspect he’s repeating the promotional material about the system he may have been given, without consideration of what is actually in place.

    I have already raised my concerns about the accuracy of Police & Crime Commissioner Graham Bright’s statements about the alert system with the Police and Crime Panel.

    Cllr Ian Manning sought to query Police and Crime Commissioner Graham Bright’s statement on the Alerts, but the chairman, Cllr Pitt cut him off and directed Police and Crime Commissioner Bright not to answer:

    Cllr Ian Manning: My final very quick one is I wonder if the slight mismatch between erm what is on Alert’s and er what’s on..
    Chairman Pitt: Cllr Manning that’s now three quick questions, so if you could answer the statistical geek question, speaking as a maths teacher, and the hotspots…

    Cllr Manning’s phrasing is an example of what I think is the unwillingness of councillors to challenge the Police and Crime Commissioner. The Commissioner is suggesting he’s substantially made the police incident log available and people in Cambridgeshire can now easily find out what incidents have happened overnight near where they live when they go online in the morning. What’s actually happened, as far as I can see, is, in relation to Cambridge, a handful of hand crafted messages have been posted on the new system. This is far from a “slight mismatch”.

    While I’m already following this up via the Police and Crime Panel, as it’s not the first time the commissioner has made this misleading statement, I have considered asking councillors at the next North Area Committee meeting:

    Can any councillor explain how to look up in the morning if there’s been an incident in one of North Cambridge’s streets overnight, and if they can’t, could the committee write to the commissioner and ask for the details to be provided, as he told the meeting when he attended this was something that is available?

    If the commissioner makes a publicised public appearance elsewhere it may be worth putting the question to him at an earlier event.

    • From my article Cambridge City Council – Anti-Social Behaviour Meeting – April 2014:

      I asked if any of those present knew how to access the crimes which had occurred in the area last night as Police and Crime Commissioner Bright had told the North Area Committee was now possible. The council’s specialist “anti-social behaviour” officer, the local councillor and the person describing himself as the police officer didn’t know, and neither did anyone else. I suggested that perhaps the Police and Crime Commissioner had not been accurate when speaking at the North Area Committee.

  20. I asked about the use of ALERT in East Cambridge following the publication of a police report stating the system had been “launched” in the area:

    The area’s sole active Neighbourhood Watch co-ordinator said he still used E-Cops and would have to investigate the new system.

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