Recently it was reported that Cambridgeshire Police are trialing the use of Skype as way to reduce the requirement for officers to visit a victim’s home to conduct an interview following an incident. The move has been criticized by some as yet another cost cutting measure, but for others it demonstrates how a forward thinking force is embracing new technology to speed up investigations.
It’s true that Bobbies on the beat are a relatively rare sight but this has been the case for many years now. The emergence of new technology and the rise of ‘digital policing’ is providing an opportunity for forces to engage and interact with the community in ways that were not previously possible. If the subsequent benefit of that is a reduction in costs then all the better.
This innovative use of Skype is just one example of many innovations in modern policing, with forces investigating new ways for witnesses and victims of crime to come forward and report incidents, disclose information and share evidence.
It is important to note that initiatives such as the one being trailed by Cambridgeshire Police are not merely knee-jerk reactions to the savage spending cuts inflicted on forces by the government. Policing around the world has been keeping a keen eye on how the world is changing. You can look as far back as 2000 when planning for Next Generation 9-1-1 began in the United States and Canada, at least four years before Facebook, YouTube and Twitter were all launched!
The debate around the use of Skype and other new ways for citizens to connect with the police – for example, sending in photos and videos of incidents from mobile devices – appears to hinge on whether the time taken to go out and meet victims of crime face-to-face is more important than giving officers more time to work on the case. It is of course all about balance.
There will always be certain types of post incident interviews which must be conducted face-to-face, as well as times when an officer needs to be dispatched to physically collect an important piece of evidence. But there are also situations when more expedient methods – such as a quick Skype call, or giving the victim a secure link to upload a video – make perfect sense. The tangible savings by using less fuel from fewer car trips, and spending time on investigations rather than on the road, shouldn’t be overlooked. What’s more, there are those in society for whom these channels of communication are part of everyday life, so to deny them the opportunity to use these channels could make them less likely to share information.
Ultimately, these digital methods for sharing information will allow police forces to focus their finite resources in the best possible way, by prioritizing contact with those who need it most, and spending more time driving investigations as opposed to a driving in their cars.