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Cheshire launches interactive video contact for vulnerable people

Location data and real-time phone access will help save lives of vulnerable people, says Cheshire.

A control system upgrade enabling access to phones is set to save lives.

The GoodSAM Instant Help platform will be used within Cheshire's control centre by call handlers and will enable them to view the exact location of the caller as well as gain access their phone camera with authorisation. 

The software is already being used by other forces, including Hertfordshire and the Met for a range of situations including domestic violence, CSI scene assessment and missing persons.

It is also being used by ambulance and fire services to help in health emergencies. 

Cheshire plans primarily to use the tool to help vulnerable members of the public, enabling call handlers to assess the scene better, equip response officers with more information of the incident, and capture evidence to be used as evidence later on.

The platform has three key functions: tracing the location of the phone that is calling, accessing the camera of the phone and allowing callers to send through media such as video footage or photos. 

It can map the location of a phone within eight feet and updates every 20 seconds.

A link will remain live until an officer closes it, so if the signal drops, the user can re-access the link. Each of the functions will work concurrently with the on-going call. 

The platform works as a desktop application, so to accept, the caller needs only to click on the link. They can disconnect at any time by exiting the screen. 

The location function works through GPS and the video uses only a small amount of call data. Data collected will then be stored on GoodSAM’s cloud platform. However, Cheshire plan to move evidence off the cloud and into their own evidence management system. 

The project has been funded via the £300,000 grant the force successfully bidded for as part of the Safety for Women at Night fund.

As part of the initiative, Cheshire has also used the fund for CCTV improvements, street lighting upgrades and education projects.

The force began trialing the system two weeks ago and so far have trained 150 operators including 14 supervisors. 

Cheshire has also reached an agreement with the CPS on how long the media is stored for and where in line with data protection guidelines. 

Police and Crime Commissioner John Dwyer is confident about the evidence going through court, particularly following the success of body-worn footage.

Chief Inspector and Safety of Women at Night (SWAN) lead Claire Jesson said: “I think one of the most distressing things for the victim is having to repeat [the details], so you ring 999 you tell the call operator, repeat it to the officer etc, so this just takes away a bit of their distress and we’re a bit more prepared because we’ve seen what’s going on, the officers have had the briefing from the FCC operators so they know what they’re walking in to.

“We’re not advocating or pushing women to turn their phones round in people’s faces and say this is the person who pinched my bottom or this is the person that’s made catcalling noises,but if its safe to do so, for them to be able to capture that means that when we turn up we know who our offender is straight away.” 

During training, officers are told they they must keep asking callers to risk assess the situation and checking that it’s safe to film and they’re not antagonising the perpetrators further. 

Dave McMahon, Service Delivery Manager said: “With for example domestic incidents, if you can’t speak to us but [the perpetrator’s] coming back into the house, we would tell you to leave your phone open, we’ve had really good convictions from 999 calls alone, and this is an extension of that.”

The force has seen an increase in domestic abuse cases during the pandemic, but Chief Inspector Claire Jesson has said it is too early to know if that will now be a permanent increase or a Covid-specific one. Domestic abuse was cited as one of the force’s high demands. 

Cheshire has also seen an increase in spiking incidents recently, although Chief Inspector Jesson suggested it could be due to an increase in media attention, leading to more confidence in the police and higher levels of reporting.

PCC John Dywer said: “Once the females in this county understand that this support is there for them what I’m hoping is that they will not hesitate to use it.

He added: “This is not an answer in itself, it’s a step in the right direction."

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