Broke UK Police want to use Skype so they can close stations

Victims to report crime through Skype so police stations can be shut

A police force that needs to make millions in savings is thought to be the first in the country considering plans to ask victims to report crime using via Skype, so they can close police stations to save cash.

By Claire Carter2:34PM BST 09 Aug 2013

Bedfordshire Police is under pressure to make £7.5 million in savings following cutbacks in government funding.

The force’s police and crime commissioner (PCC) said they spend £3 million a year staffing under-used police stations and has suggested stations could be closed, and victims could speak to officers through Skype instead.

The Police Federation said while the use of new technology was a good thing, it should not be used to plug the gaps left by budget cuts. Vice chairman Steve White said it was “not surprising” the Bedfordshire force were considering this type of solution as the cuts continue to bite.

A survey has been sent out to homes in Bedfordshire asking for families’ views on using the service, which is free and run through the internet, to communicate with officers.

Olly Martins, the PCC, said: “It’s just an idea but we would presumably have a Skype address for the force control room or there might be scope for having it more locally based.

“We know we have got £7.5 million to save in the next two years and that police stations in total across the county cost us £3 million a year.

“It is possible some smaller ones would be the ones to go just because the front desk is quiet – some of them barely have three or four people come in a day.

“The first thing I wanted to do was test the public mood and see how open people are to the idea and in what ways they access the police service.”

The public are due to give their views on the proposals to use Skype, which is a free service accessed through the internet, by October.

Steve White, Vice Chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales said: “This raises more questions than answers. When police forces embrace new technology it should not be as a means of coping with the effects of budgetary cuts. Technology is essential to enhance the service and should not act as a substitute to cover the basics.

“In some circumstances, using Skype may be effective and appropriate but it should not be used as a substitute for police contact.”

The Police Federation last month said they thought the force would be unable to cope with a repeat of the 2011 riots, due to the impact of austerity measures on police.

Javed Khan, of independent national charity Victim Support, said the proposals should be approached cautiously, and said: “We know technology can bring great benefits to the criminal justice system and important agencies are always looking to save money. However, it is vital that change should not be at the expense of the victim’s experience and in a way that will damage public confidence.”

Lincolnshire police recently slashed its spending by almost a fifth, or £5 million a year, by handing over the bulk of its back office functions to the private sector. The police force cut their budget through a deal with security firm G4S, transferring several administrative departments over to the private firm.

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