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Public tells force it is not ready for digital contact revolution


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Ageing population and lack of digital connection means personal contact is still a priority says PCC.

Public tells force it is not ready for digital contact revolution


Date - 28th October 2019
By - Gary Mason


A public consultation on call handling conducted by the Police and Crime Commissioner for Dyfed Powys Police has shown that people are not ready to ‘embrace the digital future’ whereby they make initial contact with the force online or by using a digital portal.

A number of forces have introduced digital contact platforms in order to take pressure off the stressed 999 and 101 call handling systems.  But the Dyfed Powys review found that the force’s ageing population and high percentage of rural communities who are either not digitally connected or have very slow broadband, meant that a ‘personal approach’ needed to be maintained.

The review also found that increased waiting times on the 101 non-emergency number is the main barrier to making contact with the police, which has a knock-on detrimental impact on the public’s confidence in the force.

Although 87% of survey responses were received online, the number of respondents eager to be able to report a crime via social media in the future were lower than expected. Dyfed-Powys Police’s residents continue to hold face to face and more traditional contact methods high on their preference list.

PCC Dafydd Llywelyn said: “This review’s findings show us that Dyfed-Powys Police cannot maintain the status quo in relation to public contact management. Whilst the future is set to bring new digital changes to the culture of initial public contact, which will have its benefits, I am clear that Dyfed-Powys cannot disregard the high percentage of its residents who are not ready to depend solely on digital contact. I believe that the strong appetite for a more personal contact approach needs to be fully explored and adequately catered for”.

The review also highlighted the enormous pressures that Dyfed-Powys Police, and other forces face due to people contacting the police as a first resort. The PCC said this was due to a lack of clarity on how and why the public should make contact with the police, as well as a lack of availability, capability or response by other, more suitable agencies.

Mr Llywelyn added: “I fully appreciate that the mounting pressures of increasing calls to the Force Communications Centre need to be addressed urgently, and I am pleased that significant work is being planned to address this issue.”

Larger urban forces are increasingly turning to online platforms designed to enable members of the public to contact the police digitally for non emergency incidents but his has not been without its problems.

Earlier this month police forces with digital platforms had to remove their ‘live chat’ facility after a potential vulnerability was identified within the service. The web-based function which allows people to go online and send and receive live messages related to their inquiries was temporarily de-activated after the unspecified vulnerability was discovered.  

Forces introduced the service to ease demand on the 101 system which has received widespread criticism for long waiting times and unanswered calls.  

The Metropolitan Police has a new digital 101 online portal. Eleven per cent of all reported crime now comes via the portal but a recent HMICFRS PEEL assessment criticised the force because it hadn’t trained the 101 online crime staff how to create crime reports, and information recorded on reports often lacked detail.

The report also found that many crimes still come via the traditional route into one of the three force control rooms.

High-volume, low-risk crimes are allocated to the telephone and digital investigation unit (TDIU) to be managed remotely. This has assisted in managing demand for the force, because the TDIU now deals with 45 percent of all crime, the inspectorate found.

“But staff within both units have limited investigative training and experience,” it said. “The effect of this is that victims may not be receiving an appropriate response. The force needs to train its staff to be able to assess incidents correctly and improve the quality and consistency of crime reports.”

The TDIU has been able to close 80 per cent of the crime reported to it without further investigation. However, the Inspectorate said it was “concerned that the unit appears to be closing crimes, rather than conducting effective investigations, and is not always identifying vulnerabilities.”

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