Police and Councils To Share Information on People Via Website


Tuesday, February 5th, 2013. 10:19pm

E-CINS Paper Screenshot

A meeting of Cambridge’s Community Safety Partnership on the 5th of February 2013 heard that many public bodies, including most notably the police, are considering massively expanding their use of web-based (but restricted access) databases for keeping track of people, addresses and for managing cases.

The current and proposed subjects of these databases include offenders, those reporting anti-social behaviour, children coming into contact with council services, lists of Houses of Multiple Occupancy and addresses where “problem families” (a currently trendy public sector term) live.

Police databases are not easy for others to access. This is generally a good thing. Access to, for example, the Police National Computer, is tightly controlled and people get disciplined, prosecuted and punished for abusing their access. Greater “partnership working” between state agencies and an increasing amount of working with private companies and voluntary organisations has led to databases held by one body, such as the police, not being accessible to others being a problem.

The proposed applications for these web-based systems appear to go well beyond those seen to date in Cambridgeshire; where for example traders in a town centre have been able to access information on people with various types of order banning them from, or putting conditions on their behaviour in, an area.

My Suggestion and View of the Programme

My view is that systems used by internally the police, councils and others ought be developed and updated so that information can be made available to different groups as appropriate. The ability to set different permissions to access different information, perhaps including access over the web by outside bodies, needs to be incorporated into public bodies’ routinely used systems.

The problem we appear to have is that police and local government information technology is archaic and slow to change; so officers are understandably enticed by commercial online offerings which offer a lightweight, speedy route to getting reasonably modern technology to support their work. We need to ensure though that the core systems used by the police, schools, councils and others are able to perform as required, otherwise we will see duplication of work, and increase in complexity of administration, rather than technology being used to best effect.

My Concerns

I am concerned about oversight of these new databases. Will they be as secure as the Police National Computer? Will access be controlled and logged so rigorously? At some point in the future might those running these databases for individual police forces, councils, or bodies like CBBID seek to join up records entered by these various bodies and create an overarching database outside of current control and oversight arrangements? Will those whose information is held on these databases be aware of, and have control over, how it is used and who it is shared with?

(A trial in Fenland, which involved datasharing with a housing association, used a consent form for those reporting crimes and other issues to sign to allow their information to be entered onto the system.)

I am also concerned about the focus on those reporting crime; rather than criminals. Knowing that the police will start creating records about me if I report something will deter me from reporting, or encourage me to do so anonymously. I understand there is a desire to identify those who are suffering as repeat victims of crime or anti-social behaviour as a result of political direction and due to police failings in the case of Fiona Pilkington who reportedly killed herself and her daughter after years of torment. However I think the reaction has gone too far, the police need to identify those who need particular help, but I think the best way to do that is to talk to those reporting crimes and find out exactly what the problem is, its extent, how long it has being going on, and how it is having an impact on people’s lives. I don’t think the police ought be trying to identify people on whom crime is having a serious impact though analysing statistics – there are many reasons why people might find themselves in a position to contact the police on a number of occasions.

As well as being uncomfortable with specifically recording, and sharing details of, those who report crimes; I am also concerned about councils sharing their lists of HMO addresses with the police in a live and automated manner. I don’t think it ought matter if a call to the police comes from a HMO or not; I certainly don’t think residents of HMOs ought be given a second class service. I oppose the implication here that residents of HMOs are considered problematic.

Another underlying problem is the current propensity for the police, councils and other bodies to encourage the reporting of crime to bodies other than the police. This then creates the problem of systems needing to be put in place to make the police aware of reports of crime. I would rather see the police being the sole body to which people are encouraged to report crime (using Crimestoppers if they wish to make it anonymous). I’m personally not keen on local councils, or other bodies like CBBID, or CamBAC, playing at policing.

Web-based Database for Offender Management

Detective Inspector Mick Birchall of Cambridgeshire Police described to the committee how a web-based database would help with “offender management”, he presented a report which stated:

The system allows partners to access the case file for offenders from any web based computer and allows real time multi agency case management and recording and tasking of actions.

DI Birchall told the committee that some partners would get direct access to full case files but it was also possible to “task” others, such as volunteers, by sending them emails from within the system without them having access to it.

As these functions appear to be right at the core of the activity of “offender management”; any outsourcing needs surely to be very carefully managed.

Cambridge City Council officer Linda Kilkelly told the partnership that as the council already releases information it holds, for example, on those who have reported anti-social behaviour to the police on request by email. Kilkelly stated there is no difference in giving the police direct access to the council’s databases and declared this would be “covered by existing data access agreements”.

My view is there is a huge gulf between providing direct access to a database and handing over information on request. Responding to requests for information almost inevitably involves considering the appropriateness of passing information on. Local senior police officers regularly told the Police Authority how they thought it important to consider the proportionality of releasing information, particularly relating to children’s encounters with the police, to other parts of the public sector (or in even response to requests for CRB checks).

E-CINS

The Community Safety Partnership considered a paper from the police, presented by Inspector Richard Lowings, who was described as Cambridgeshire Police’s Youth and Antisocial Behaviour Manager. The paper proposed considering using the Empowering-Communities Inclusion and Neighbourhood management System (E-CINS) database produced by “Empowering Communities”. Empowering Communities is a Community Interest Company.

Elsewhere the ECINS system has been used to share information between state run prisons and Staffordshire’s Integrated Offender Management team.

While it wasn’t clear if the E-CINS system was specifically being referred to officers talked about systems to which providers are constantly adding “modules” having seen their systems being used in relation to, for example, sharing a council’s information on their tenants with the police they then add elements to make it suited for other purposes such as sharing information on children considered at risk.

The police are so keen to get more organisations in Cambridgeshire using the E-CINS system they have offered to pay the ~£5000 per CSP area per year charge for the next financial year to get it in-use.

Officer Kilkelly stated that Cambridge City Council would not want to maintain duplicate databases; so would move all their record keeping on to a new online system if it was adopted.

City Council leader Tim Bick made no comment.

Officers from a wide range of agencies representatives at the partnership told the meeting they were regularly approached by private companies offering online databases intended for sharing information between public bodies. A number of members urged caution on selecting the right database provider, for example ensuring there was one which would develop their product in response to users’ needs and provide support.

Officer Kilkelly said she had seen a mock-up of the E-CINS system (though had not seen it in use) and reported it “looked good and user friendly”. Kilkelly told the partnership that she had seen a system in use which shared photographs and profiles of offenders (but didn’t reveal where that was).

The Cambridge Community Safety Partnership agreed to support a motion to the County Wide Community Safety Strategic Board which includes the following statement:

The Countywide Community Safety Board recognises the operational benefits of a web based data share IT system for community safety practitioners which will adapt to changing business environments and provide services which are future proofed

Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner’s Comment

Cambridgeshire’s Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner, Commissioner Graham Bright’s friend Brian Ashton, was present at the meeting. He asked the sensible question of if data entered into one system could easily be downloaded from it and used in an alternative system; he was assured by Inspector Richard Lowings that the arrangements to enable such data portability were in place with the E-CINS system.

Rupert Moss-Eccardt’s Comment

Liberal Democrat Rupert Moss-Eccardt who stood for election as Cambridgeshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner and has worked professionally in police technology responded to my live tweets from the meeting:

Previous Related Comments

I have previously expressed concern about the database held by CamBAC on those who are excluded from Cambridge, responsibility for which is soon to be taken over by the Cambridge Tax organisation “CBBID”.

I have also followed the attempts by local bodies, including the police, to adopt the now abolished “contact point” database for sharing information on children.

Background Document

13 comments/updates on “Police and Councils To Share Information on People Via Website

  1. Richard Taylor Article author

    This is not about councils getting access to what is generally called “the police database”, the police national computer, but about the police, councils and others sharing access to some information; the details and my comments on the proposals are in the article above.

  2. Richard Taylor Article author

    Despite being silent during the item at the February 2013 meeting of the Community Safety Partnership; by the time the 30th of April 2013 meeting of the partnership came round the leader of Cambridge City Council, Liberal Democrat Cllr Tim Bick, appeared to have realised the new data sharing website was something he ought ask questions about.

    Cllr Bick expressed his concern to the partnership; he said councillors would be likley to ask him questions about the project, so he wanted to get some answers he could pass on. Cllr Bick’s questions, and the answers given by officers are below:

    1. What agencies do you expect to share data using the website?

    The answer given was that this is “not prescriptive”. Various bodies can be added to provide, and access, information via the web-based system. A list was given of: Police, probation, those involved in running drug treatment programs, and social landlords (including individuals who are landlords). Cllr Bick was told that in Fenland thirty to forty organisations and individuals have access to post, and read, information on the website being used to share data there.

    2. Do you expect the new website to be an overlay on existing systems or a replacement.

    Officers initially said they would not replace their existing systems; and that it wouldn’t replace anything, it would just be a new mechanism for sharing information which was already shared.
    Cllr Bick’s own officers at the City Council appeared to suggest something different, they said they might well use the new system as their primary database.
    The police said there would be no risk of time wasted “double keying” information as they could use “copy and paste”.

    3. Data Protection Responsibility

    The answer given was this is “still to be addressed”.

    4. Who is the “steward” of the system?

    The answer given was “nobody”. Responsibility for information on the system is to be “distributed” with those who provide information retaining responsibility for it; and the system allowing them to control access to it. A system of access controls, and groups, was described with administrators within each institution being able to add users and change privileges.

    5. Will data sharing online by-pass talking?

    The response was that greater information sharing actually facilitates more communication, including talking. Officers from different agencies might phone each other up and have a discussion while looking at the relevant file together on the E-CINS website.

    Cllr Bick was additionally assured that there will be:

    No access at home

    Quite where individual landlords and others will be expected to go to access the system wasn’t explained.

    Cllr Bick asked how access control would be limited; the response he got was that it would not, but IP addresses of those accessing the website would be monitored and accesses from home would be spotted.

    There followed a short discussion about how the use of similar systems elsewhere had rapidly expanded; with the use first being focused on “anti-social behaviour families” but had now become “all-encompassing” with information being shared to and from everyone from Integrated Offender Management teams to the NHS. Asked for examples of NHS usage, one given was a “named nurse” in a child protection case having access to the relevant webpage on the system so data can be shared.

    Following the discussion Cllr Bick joined all other members of the partnership in voting for progress towards using the website for data-sharing using the commercial website to continue.

  3. Richard Taylor Article author

    On the 10th of June 2013 the Liberal Democrat Policing Spokesman for Cambridgeshire, Rupert Moss-Eccardt, tweeted to alert Cambridge MP Julian Huppert to the status of the proposed database:

    He added:

    This exchange prompted me to update this article with a note of the exchange at the latest Community Safety Partnership meeting in Cambridge.

  4. Richard Taylor Article author

    Last year the Cambridge-News published an article: Pubs to access new ‘Facebook of crime’ reporting on another product from the same commercial supplier now seeking to provide the broader public sector personal data sharing website – “E-CINS”. The company appeared very proud of the “Facebook of Crime” tag, even creating a graphic for the concept which they used to illustrate the article when they placed a copy on their promotional website.

  5. Richard Taylor Article author

    At the Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Panel meeting on the 12 of June 2013 Commissioner Graham Bright spoke about the ECINS website for data sharing. I have made the video of the exchange available and have transcribed it below:

    Police and Crime Commissioner Graham Bright (Conservative)
    The other good thing that’s happened and I know I worked on it before hand is that we now have all our partner authorities on ECINS and that for the first time means it is joined up and everyone knows what everyone else is doing and that’s going to help enormously in terms of tracking people and not having to double up and reinvent the wheel. That was one of the things that we talked about and everybody decided that, every authority.
    Chairman Cllr Mac McGuire (Conservative)
    Can I interrupt you there Sir Graham, apologies.
    When you use acronyms.
    Police and Crime Commissioner Graham Bright (Conservative)
    ECINS. Don’t ask me what it means.
    It’s a piece of software that was actually developed in Norfolk and is used by the police and is used by local authorities in particular the housing side and public protection side and it identifies people so that if you have a person who has sort of fallen foul of, or caused problems for, a local authority, including if they’re homeless, you can put their name into the system. Now it doesn’t give you every possible detail but it tells you: Ah, yes, NHS are interested in this guy, housing authority is interested in it and local authority XYZ is interested in him. So that means you can phone them up and say we’ve got this person can we talk about him. So it’s not there for everyone to see, it’s not sort of an open plan thing but it’s very significant and I’ve seen the results, certainly in Fenlands[sic] who were sort of the first ones out of the trap using it, plus of course some of the police areas were doing it. And it is proving helpful and I know having talked to those who’ve now got it they can understand what it’s all about and why it is useful.

    I think the great prize is that Cambridge City took it. They didn’t want to, but looked at it and said: “Yep we’re going for it”. That’s marvellous.

    Chairman Cllr Mac McGuire (Conservative)
    I would suggest anyone who wants to find out more information about that. You should find it on your Community Safety Partnership online. It is a district thing.
    (Cambridge’s Community Safety Partnership is the only one in the county which operates in public, and routinely publishes meeting papers online and allows the public to observe its meetings. – RT)

    Police and Crime Commissioner Graham Bright (Conservative)
    We can always arrange for you to have a look at it at one of the authorities.

    Every authority now has got it, so every one of your of the authorities have got that.

    So thank you to everyone who sort of piled in and got that underway.

    Cllr Andrea Reiner, Cambridge City Council, Liberal Democrat
    All this discussion of the collection of data and recording; obviously it raises data protection issues so if you could speak to that and also questions of due process in terms of obviously we need to show that people are actually you know convicted of crimes for example before action is taken.

    Police and Crime Commissioner Graham Bright (Conservative)
    I mean in terms of data protection obviously we are right on the side of the law.

    It’s not just us doing this, other authorities are doing it as well.

    It is something that when I first heard about it I was a bit concerned about where it would sit. I wanted to see more information was there for everyone to see, well not everyone to see, but the authorities to see. And erm it does do exactly as I said. If you put a name in it just identifies who that person has been in contact with. You know if you’ve got someone who’s homeless, with a drugs problem, it flags up the NHS have already taken him on board, the housing associations have already taken him on board, social services have taken him on board so you can see that immediately and it gives you the opportunity to contact them then and take it forward.

    It doesn’t give you all the information at all, what the particular problem was, it just identifies the person and the partner which has an interest in them. We’re not giving anything away, it is only for local authorities and partners to use this, it’s not for the public. But even if the public saw it, it wouldn’t actually tell them anything.

    Dorothy Gregson, Chief Executive, Police and Crime Commissioner’s Office
    I mean if I may say the ECINs has been through each organisation, it has done exactly what each organisation has asked. It’s not a system run by the office of the Police and Crime Commissioner, we don’t have access to it ourselves, we don’t use it. It’s your partner organisations who looked at it, considered those issues, and agreed to go ahead with it.

    Police and Crime Commissioner Graham Bright (Conservative)
    It’s not our system. None of the software I’ve been talking to you about is administered by us.

    Chairman Cllr Mac McGuire (Conservative)
    I think that’s understood.

    Police and Crime Commissioner Graham Bright (Conservative)
    We just use it.

    Cllr Reiner’s contribution is rather garbled, but it appears she is suggesting that information ought not be shared on those who are not convicted; yet she is a member of the ruling party of Cambridge City Council which has agreed to share information, without such safeguards and limits. The Commissioner has suggested those who are homeless will find themselves on the system.

    The commissioner’s description of the system as just flagging up which agencies are involved with an individual is very different from the picture given to the Cambridge Community Safety Partnership meetings, which suggested that detailed information would be shared.

  6. Richard Taylor Article author

    An update has been provided on p70 of the Community Safety Partnership meeting papers for the 22nd of July 2013.

    The Empowering Communities Inclusion and Neighbourhood Management System (ECINS) is a secure web based information sharing tool, operated by Empowering Communities. Cambridge CSP provided a grant of £5,000 towards the county’s license for Cambridge officers to use the tool for 2 years. The licence became active on 1 June 2013. The Safer Communities Project Officer is leading the introduction of ECINS within Cambridge and arranged core training with ASB officers and City Homes housing officers on 12 July. Officers will start using ECINS once a supporting database is up and running

  7. Richard Taylor Article author

    The papers for the 29 October 2013 Cambridge Community Safety Partnership meeting state:

    E-CINS: ASB and housing officers began using the Empowering Communities Inclusion and Neighbourhood Management System (E-CINS) on 1 August. This has proved to be a very effective tool in managing casework in the first two months of operation with very few teething problems. The Safer Communities Project Officer will continue to lead the introduction of E-CINS within Cambridge, working with other agencies. A revised Information Sharing Agreement (ISA), constructed under the Cambridgeshire Information Sharing Framework, has been drawn up and is in the process of being signed. This ISA specifically covers the sharing of personal and sensitive personal information.

    The partnership’s papers also reveal volunteers running “neighbourhood resolution panels” have been given access to the ECINS website.

  8. Richard Taylor Article author

    p22 of the Cambridge Community Safety Partnership papers for the 11th of February 2014 state:

    The Police and Crime Commissioner funded ECINS a web-based multi- agency information sharing system, which, is being used to support information sharing across the multiple partners within the county and the city.

    If it is true it is funded by the Police and Crime Commissioner then the Police and Crime Panel ought be looking into how it is operating.

  9. Richard Taylor Article author

    An update report dated March 2014 has been produced and released via FOI:

    https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/226569/response/564583/attach/14/FOI%204435%20APP1k.pdf

    * Details of domestic violence victims are being shared via the system in Peterborough
    * Also in Peterborough the system is being used to “actively case manage all of the street workers, pimps and kerb crawlers”.
    * The cost of access to the website for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough has been £60,000 covering the two year period June 2013 to May 2015

    The Police and Crime Commissioner’s latest public stance is still that the system is being used for recording contacts with public bodies and nothing more.

    The report states the Police and Crime Commissioner has “decided to centralise the funding for ECINS in order to prioritise its funding in the future. The PCC will continue to expect all agencies to use and further develop this tool within their organisations.”

    The report states the “owner” of the ECINS database is “Empowering Communities”

  10. Richard Taylor Article author

    A HMIC report into Cambridgeshire Police’s performance recording crimes has noted:

    The identification of crimes on the case administration tracking system (CATS) and
    the ECINS system, which include external referrals from other public sector organisations such as local councils, presents a significant risk to the force. We found little evidence of supervision of these systems and we found that there is no cross referencing to the crime recording system

    and

    The force problem solving database, called ECINS, is used by neighbourhood resources to record community problems and the activities taken to address them. It includes a lot of relevant information, both from the police and other partner organisations. However, the inspection found that there that there is no evaluation conducted on the effectiveness of preventative activity in problem solving community issues or operations; there also needs to be a more consistent use of the system. In addition, while all six policing districts have access to this system, the inspection found that the multi-agency referral unit (MARU) did not. This means that it risks missing important information which might lead it to make different decisions about high risk areas of policing

    http://www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmic/wp-content/uploads/crime-data-integrity-cambridgeshire-2014.pdf

  11. Richard Taylor Article author

    The minutes of the force executive board from the 6th of January 2015, released in February/March by the Police and Crime Commissioner state:

    With regard to proposals to create a partnership environment to replace E-CINs, it was confirmed that resources were being released for this during the second week of January

    This is under the title “Athena update”.

    The Athena system has been described as a way for police forces to work together; if it is to replace E-CINS it will have to involve many more bodies. The reference to a “partnership environment” perhaps relates to working with councils, probation providers the courts, and others. “Partnership environment” might mean something else though; there’s not enough information to be sure what the statement in the minutes means.

    A FOI request has revealed “Athena” is a “Web Based Single Solution Product”; ie another website like E-CINS, this one is produced by a company called Northgate Public Services.

    It will be interesting to see what the move to the new system will have on Cambridge City Council which said it was moving its own “anti-social behaviour” case management to the E-CINS system.

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