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Criminal investigations in England and Wales are being hindered by "outdated" police IT systems, a survey of officers has found.

Only half of the officers asked believed they can rely on information held on their forces' computer systems, and just 65% could access a computer at work when they need to.

According to the Police Federation, which sponsored the survey of working officers, the answers "paint a damning picture of growing frustration on frontline policing".

Serving officers are having to deal with "outdated kit, patchy service and incompatible computer systems needlessly hindering criminal investigations and affecting officers' ability to do their jobs" said the Federation.

Further issues include inadequate training, under-powered desktops, and broken printers which have been causing grief for police – many of whom still have to use laptops using Windows XP, an operating system which Microsoft no longer provides security updates for.

Image: The Police Federation said the survey paints 'a damning picture'

Just a month after the National Audit Office warned how government cuts have left police "struggling to deliver effective services to the public", the survey reveals complaints that "millions are being wasted on the wrong equipment".

The unsteady roll-out of mobile devices to all police has also made things difficult for forces who are working where there isn't decent mobile coverage.

The Federation cited a chief officer from a small rural force who said his phone and laptop had been poor investments: "It may as well be gathering dust or stopping a table from wobbling; getting a signal is also an issue."

Another police staff member complained about having to use up to 20 different police and external database systems, with an equal number of passwords and user names to keep track of.

She added: "As far as I'm aware none of these systems are able to talk to one another."

Simon Kempton, the Police Federation's technology lead, said there is "no point ploughing millions and billions into increasingly expensive and complicated equipment without an overall strategic vision".

Government delays affecting the new emergency services network have also left forces spending additional money on keeping their old radio systems working.

The Public Accounts Committee is set to hear from senior policing figures on Wednesday regarding the financial sustainability of police forces in England and Wales.

Although the Home Office has been developing replacements for the ageing police national database and police national computer, these projects have also been beset with difficulties.

A Home Office spokesman said: "The government is committed to ensuring that the police have the right tools to do their vital work.

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"That is why the Home Office is investing heavily in the policing sector to develop its digital capability.

"Decisions about how resources are best deployed are for chief constables and democratically accountable police and crime commissioners."

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