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Autonomy and visibility: The rewards of mobile working

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A description of the 'real time' evaluation of the very successful Police Scotland Mobile Working project.
Autonomy and visibility: The rewards
of mobile working
OPEN 22nd March 2021Martin Gallagher, Police Scotland
What are the benefits of mobile working? When Police Scotland rolled out devices to 11,000
officers, they called on an independent academic team to assess the results - which were
overwhelmingly positive. Chief Inspector Martin Gallagher, Deputy Business Lead, outlines
the project, alongside Professor Lesley Diack of Robert Gordon University and Dr. William
Graham of Abertay University.
Martin Gallagher, Chief Inspector, Deputy Business Lead, Mobile Working Project
We want to improve working practices so that people can be deployed in a way that best
helps meet the needs and requirements of the communities we serve.
So when I was appointed to the Mobile Working Project to help facilitate the rollout of
devices to almost 11,000 officers, I knew a challenging but rewarding task lay ahead.
The addition of mobile technology would revolutionise how our community, response and
specialist officers conducted their duties, providing them with instant access to information
and increasing their visibility within our communities.
Researching the benefits of Mobile Working was an important factor that could help shape
change for other projects within Police Scotland and also increase public confidence.
We scoped the project benefits as part of our business case but the question that faced us was
how to independently assess these benefits in a credible manner where the organisation
would not be ‘marking its own homework’.
Independent work
After extensive engagement with partners and stakeholders, we obtained very useful
observations which helped us move forward with the proposal for an independent piece of
For further research and preparation, I met with business professionals within the public
sector and discussed external consultancy, learning the pluses, pitfalls and costs.
I then met with senior academics (we are very lucky to be a partner in the Scottish Institute
for Policing Research headed by Dr. Liz Aston to support our activities), took their advice
and thereafter met with our Mobile Working Project commercial partners to discuss our
All were convinced that there was a need to monitor the benefits (and disbenefits) the project
achieved, in a credible manner that would withstand scrutiny. So, we commissioned an
independent academic team to carry out research into the project, working with our own
procurement team to inform a bespoke methodology.
Nothing of this nature has been attempted previously by the Service, and the proposal was
subject to appropriately robust challenge prior to endorsement at executive level within
Police Scotland.
In a Scottish Government gateway review it was acknowledged that this methodology has the
potential to be sector-leading across public services.
Professor Lesley Diack (Robert Gordon University) and Dr. William Graham (Abertay
The research project was an evaluation of part of the ‘Digitally Enabled Policing Programme’
(DEPP), the ‘Police Scotland Mobile Working Project (MWP)’ which is an ongoing project
as part of the Police Scotland ‘Serving a Changing Scotland Strategy’.
A research team from Robert Gordon University (RGU) and Abertay University was
appointed to evaluate the implementation and impact of the national roll-out from October
2019 until November 2020, and to inform the final stages of roll-out to almost 11,000 police
officers across Scotland.
The MWP project equipped operational officers with a digital mobile policing solution to
replace the traditional paper notebook system, to provide remote, live access to key policing
information systems. The research used a combined prospective and retrospective qualitative
approach, triangulated with routinely collected online feedback from officers and quantitative
The main objectives were to identify long-term potential benefits and efficiencies to the
officers, senior staff, and the public. However, the main data collection phase of the project
had to be transformed because of the pandemic.
Frontline officers, sergeants and inspectors, civilian staff and senior police management were
interviewed from five divisions (A, D, E, G, K) across Scotland.
From the initial observation stage of the project it was noted that preparation for the roll-out
had been comprehensive and that the considered choice of device, software and network had
been important.
The implementation phase of the rollout was led by the divisions themselves and this further
added to the success. From the implementation stage evaluated by the research team potential
long-term benefits were identified in five key areas with sub-themes as highlighted below:
The feedback from frontline officers, sergeants and CID was that an efficiency was created
because there were fewer delays with control room checks, access to systems, e.g., PNC and
CHS, and this helped with non-duplication of tasks.
As they were completing more checks than previously, they felt that this increased capacity.
They highlighted the time saving that had been created which allowed them to access files
and do other tasks while out.
This allowed them to manage their time in a better way including using any ‘downtime’ to
complete other tasks. There was a perception that this meant they were out and about more
and the functionality of the device enabled officers to be more proactive.
The use of the mobile device and the search systems on it gave the officers better access to
information and the facility to hold details on the device. The availability of more detailed
information than through the control room, e.g., markers and warrants, gave them an
information accuracy and an immediacy of information that was up-to-date.
Coupled with access to additional information sources such as the ability to access
photographs across a range of incidents gave the frontline officer an added advantage.
This was increased when the information sharing potential was realised as the dissemination
of information became much quicker and officers did not have to return to the office to
photocopy notebooks or write up reports. Many commented that fingerprint access and the
ability to be wiped remotely made the device more secure than the traditional notebook.
Connectivity and Communication
One of the surprising findings of the project was the sense of connectivity that was created
when officers were away from police premises. This was particularly felt by those officers
who were normally based at partnership premises. Officers also felt that their external
communication with the public and other agencies was made easier with the email and phone
function on the mobile device.
There was a perception of increased visibility and presence on the street which allowed more
proactive policing. Many of the interviewees reported that there had been a generally positive
attitude from the public.
Supervisors mentioned that real time communication had improved and that access to
statements and up-to-date information was quicker and easier. This was linked to information
sharing and better team communication especially for supervisors with incidents such as
missing persons.
Officer wellbeing and safety
All who were interviewed perceived benefits to both officer wellbeing and safety. Topics
mentioned were that being less office-based made the job easier, gave them fewer delays at
the end of shift and importantly, anonymous access to welfare information.
Officer safety was also mentioned by many of the officers as they felt that being able to
access background information gave them better awareness of what they may be walking into
when attending incidents. There was increased officer morale reported with a feeling of being
invested in by Police Scotland and they reported a sense of autonomy and greater control
over their workload.
During the pandemic the devices became even more important as they allowed more social
distancing, access to briefings and up-to-date information immediately. The quick release of
the COVID-19 tickets was mentioned as a positive.
Technology and Culture Change
The devices were perceived as having a defining role in current policing and a
transformational change on standard practice. Police officers’ attitudes to technology were
important to the successful uptake of the devices and previous experience with technology
was a factor.
Members of the public’s attitude to technolo gy was surprising in that they expected the polic e
to have mobile devices already and officers felt that they helped create a modern and
professional image for Police Scotland.
There was a very positive attitude towards the adoption of the technology and there was a
perception of a culture change with more flexible working arrangements.
The new working practices allowed the officers to be less office-based, more visible, with a
crime prevention focus, but also created more autonomy and greater efficiency.
Officers perceived that they were less reliant on the control room, and on office-based
computer facilities. Two other related themes were collaboration and improved relationships.
Across Police Scotland departments and divisions worked together to deliver the devices and
this help to develop a trust especially with the use of the IT functions. There was also a
perception that this might improve in the future and would also include external
Overall, the introduction of the mobile devices has been a very successful project with the
majority of police officers at all levels realising multiple benefits in process, job satisfaction,
safety and access to information.
Authors’ Note:
After the completion of this article Professor Lesley Diack died very suddenly.
Lesley made a significant contribution to many aspects of public life in Scotland through her
academic work, and in particular in recent years to policing.
She will be sorely missed. We hope this final article she contributed to, and the successful
project she led it tells of, is one part of a very worthy legacy.
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