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Expanding digital contact ‘critical to rebuilding public trust’ says DCC

Citizens Portal pilot in Humberside will be building block of expanded digital contact service

By 2024 the Single Online Home (SOH) digital contact system which was launched six years ago will be in place in 41 of the Home Office forces and BTP and the system can now accept reports of spiking, stalking and harassment according to the NPCC lead.

DCC Simon Megicks of Norfolk Constabulary who holds the NPCC portfolio for Digital Public Contact says the system had grown from a high volume, low risk system to one which also deals with low volume high impact reports.

He said the system was “critical to rebuild public trust” as it gave victims the choice of how and when they want to report a crime.

Since January 2021 there have been 5.4 million crime report forms submitted through SOH and DCC Megicks said a more open approach to social media is also supporting these efforts by allowing crimes to be reported on Facebook, X and Instagram.

“Reporting online is a start but technology and innovation can take up much further,” he told the Police Digital Summit in Brighton. He said there were already public confidence challenges around the use of AI. “Is it right for Live chat or should we be using it as part of voice call triage and I’m sure some people would say yes. Should we wait until the public become more comfortable in the AI law enforcement space and then fall further behind the industry standards?”

He said policing had specific needs and cannot afford to miss operational risk. “We cannot allow a victim or key witness to be turned off because of an ill-conceived chat bot. We need the best in class [technology) at a right price for the public purse that can be shared right across the policing market.”

The next step in digital contact which is being piloted by Humberside Police is the Citizen Portal project. The pilot will assess the benefits of two way digital engagement. DCC Megicks said the pilot is the foundation block of an ambitious programme for digital contact with the public.

“The public quite rightly expect a more sophisticated form of digital contact with the police.” He said the portal will considerably extend the SOH service so that forces can provide crime and incident updates to victims and witnesses, send messages to specific groups of individuals in order to tackle, for example, Violence against women and girls (VAWG)

Mike Lattanzio, chief digital and information officer for Thames Valley and Hampshire and chair of the National Police Technology Council (NPTC) told the summit that currently the service still spends the majority of its total IT budget on “keeping the wheels on” for existing systems.

Instead, he said money should be spent on IT that frees up resources and improves the service to the public such as voice analytics. “We know that 20 per cent of the calls that come into our contact centre are from victims who are phoning up for updates. In my two forces alone that equates to 150,000 calls a year. That takes 30 FTE [staff] to answer at a cost of about £1.2m.

“We know that we have a much bigger percentage of those calls which are failed demand and potentially nothing to do with policing. Voice analytics can give us the ability to deal with that appropriately.”

He said self service technology had been successfully used by the DVLA and Passport Office to deal with “quite complex requests”. He added: “If it can be done for those things it can be done for us.

He also said forces needed to look at video enabled dispatch. “Many victims who report crime don’t want a police car turning up at their home address. This is not just about what suits policing and improves our productivity.”

He said forces needed to stop “overlaying digital technology over analogue processes. We are still spending the large proportion of our technology budgets on simply keeping the wheels on."

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