Police devices:The 10 Year challenge

Wednesday, 17 April, 2019

A popular social media trend doing the rounds lately has been the ’10-year challenge,’ where the challenge is to share a photo of yourself from today and 10 years ago. Setting aside the theory that this is a ruse to harvest images to train facial recognition systems, I am not sure if the point of the challenge is to see how much, or how little, you’ve changed in this time; I imagine for most of us the 10-year challenge displays more change than we’d like to admit!

This trend got me thinking about our own 10-year challenge within the police. How have the tools of our trade changed over the last decade? Would an officer of 10 years ago recognise or be able to use the tools of an officer of today, or has nothing of any significance really changed?


Take a look at this image which depicts the change in police mobile devices since the last decade. No iPhone or Android in sight. The iPhone 3G (which was only the 2nd generation of iPhone) was barely a few months old at this point and the App Store, which would come to revolutionise the delivery of software on smartphones and pave the way for the burgeoning ecosystem we all enjoy today, was just as young. The first Android phone had only just been released in late 2008, and most would agree it was pretty awful. It would be a good few more years before Android and iPhone would reach the dominance they enjoy today.

BlackBerry – due to its seemingly impenetrable lock on the enterprise market – was the default device for the police and most of the public sector ten years ago. Yet in contrast to today, the processing power of these devices were not a patch on their PC counterparts, which severely limited their use in the field. Today, by contrast, smartphones and desktop PCs are broadly as powerful as each other. The performance bottleneck is just not a factor to worry about in 2019.

Operating Systems

The Windows Mobile and BlackBerry operating system have gone. Android now dominates the police sector, while iOS (due to its success in both the consumer and enterprise worlds) remains a serious contender. Thankfully, with modern development tools, we can now build the same software for both ecosystems relatively easily (PoliceBox is available for iOS, Android and Windows UWP for example).


Ten years ago, devices and the software that ran on them were much more closely tied together. The big device manufacturers in 2009 were BlackBerry, Palm, Motorola, Nokia, Ericsson etc. While device choice was great, third-party software was almost non-existent because every manufacturer had their own operating system. This was a development nightmare, but it also meant your force’s choice of device was critical. Choose the wrong one and you could have nothing to run on it in a few years’ time. By contrast, software today is cloud-based and device agnostic, so forces have a lot more freedom to choose which device suits them best.


This has certainly changed a lot during this time. In 2009 forces were still enjoying their shiny fleet of BlackBerrys courtesy of Gordon Brown. By contrast, forces now are contending with the result of nearly a decade of austerity-era budgetary decline. The need to do more with less is an ever-present consideration for chiefs in every constabulary. But this is not always a bad thing; innovation strives in times of scarcity, not abundance. Forces are now more open than ever to innovations because they cannot afford not to.

Strategic direction

Many would agree that a common IT strategy for the police was non-existent in 2009. Many initiatives have been considered, but none have ever been as holistic and clear as the Policing Vision 2025 which we benefit from today.
Policing Vision 2025 gives us a clear direction to build a digital police force fit to tackle the policing challenges of the 21st Century. Digital evidence, digital contact, inter-agency, mobile, cloud – are all common objectives we can work towards.

What a difference a cloud makes

Perhaps the biggest change to occur with police devices over the last ten years is not even visible to those using them; the shift to the cloud for police data and IT services. While “Cloud First” was announced as a policy in 2010, the cloud has only become a reality which the police can use in the last few years. The cloud brings massive advantages in terms of rapid deployment, security, scalability and performance for the police at a fraction of the cost paid by officers a decade ago. The cloud is a gamechanger, enabling the police to remain relevant and adaptive to modern policing needs in spite of years of real-time budget cuts. If leveraged effectively, it will yield significant cost savings and innovations for the police over the next decade.

The next 10 years…

While future gazing is always fun, it’s important to remain grounded. Ultimately, officers need the tools in their hands to provide them with all the information they need to handle any situation. Any changes to police tools during the next decade should work towards this goal. Policing Vision 2025 is a good framework for forces to work towards, but if its deployment doesn’t make it easier for officers to get their job done – with less time spent on paperwork and more time out in the field – it will all be for nothing.

Here’s hoping the next time we do a 10 Year challenge we will be able to focus less on the changes to the device manufacturers and operating systems, but more on the fundamental levels of support and intelligence afforded to our officers in the line of duty. While it’s always risky predicting the future, I expect the real differences will not be the devices in the officers’ hands, but the support behind them.

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