The Development of the Police National Computer

The Department of Criminology, as part of our Scarman Lecture Series, hosted a public lecture by Dr Chris A. Williams from The Open University. The lecture was entitled:

  • The Development of the Police National Computer, 1958-1975, and the Promises and Limitations of Computerisation

About the Paper

This paper is the first attempt to write a general history of the development and significance of the UK Police National Computer. Dr Williams examined the outline of the development of the system and how it fitted into the context of the government's desire to computerise more generally and went on to analyse the way that the process illustrates the positioning of power and initiative in British governance, by looking at the role of the private sector and central government's response to it; at the balance of power between local authorities and central government, and between the Home Office, ACPO, and the Metropolitan force; and at the extent to which the development of police technology had internationalised.

Finally with reference to Latour's concept of the 'centre of calculation', and Scott's notion of 'seeing like a state', Dr Williams looked in depth at the limits of the system by focussing on one particular index which was not computerised, despite a long-standing police desire to do this.

About Dr Chris A. Williams

As well as being an ex-student of the Centre for the Study of Public Order, Chris A. Williams is a Lecturer in the History Department of The Open University, affiliated to the OU's International Centre for Comparative Criminological Research. He has published work on the history of policing in the UK which covers, police reform and nineteenth century urban history, the analysis and deployment of criminal statistics; the decline of autonomy of urban police forces in the twentieth century, and the early history of CCTV. His current research interests include the nature and extent of links between colonial and 'home' police in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries; the prevalence of private payment for policing in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and the development and significance of the control room and police computing. He is also actively engaged in promoting the preservation of criminal justice records and artefacts, and both promoting and exploring their presentation to the wider public.

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