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West Mercia Police's new computer system is 'slow and user-unfriendly'

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A brand new computer system designed to drag West Mercia Police into the 21st Century has been branded "slow, unstable and user-unfriendly".

But bugs in the new IT network will not stop the force using it, as the alternative is isolation using a 20-year-old system, Commissioner John Campion said today.

Mr Campion said “Athena” was doing its job despite a few “practical realities”.

The system went live in October and was designed to combine data on investigations, intelligence, custody and case management into one.

A report before his Police and Crime Panel said Athena was slow, unstable and user-unfriendly, and IT consultants had been drafted in shortly after the launch to redesign its interface.

Panel member and Herefordshire councillor Sebastian Bowen said: “I find the report somewhat disappointing. Athena doesn’t seem to be living up to its promise.

“There seems to be a lot of bugs in this system. Are we ever going to have a system that is fit for purpose and does the job that is it meant to do?

"And how much is it going to cost us – or how much is it costing us – to get it right?”

Mr Campion said he disagreed with Councillor Bowen’s premise, and said Athena was “doing what it was intended to do”.

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He added: “There are some practical realities in the way we are using it, in the way the structure works and the way the system is, sometimes, unable to meet its objectives.

“None of those mean it’s not fit for purpose. It is fast becoming the national solution.”

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At a previous meeting Mr Campion predicted that two-thirds of the 43 territorial police forces in England and Wales would be using Athena within the next five years.

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Mr Campion said: “What we are not going to do is suggest we can revert to the systems we had before that are 20 years old, in some cases.

“That doesn’t mean, when there are elements where it’s providing extra burden on our front-line staff, that we shouldn’t look to see if we can provide short-term solutions to deal with that.

“Members of the panel shouldn’t see that as a failure of the system. It is a practical reality of the way we have chosen to use it.”

Mr Campion said he didn’t have the financial information Councillor Bowen requested with him, but said adopting Athena was a “significant financial investment that will run into six figures”.

Councillor Gareth Prosser, of Redditch Borough Council, asked about the effect the new system, and the problems it was experiencing, were having on officers’ morale.

Mr Campion said: “You will know that police officers are not predisposed to embrace change, but let’s also say that some of the changes are right.

“We also have to recognise that not everyone is tech-savvy. For some, not only are they having to get used to a new system, but they are having to get used to technology.”

Telford and Wrekin councillor Kuldip Sahota pointed out that there are nine police forces current in the “consortium” of Athena users.

He asked: “Your future plan doesn’t include withdrawing from it, does it?”

Mr Campion said: “No.”

By Alex Moore, local democracy reporter

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