'Utilise technology' to keep policing costs down

By Rob Virtue on June 2, 2011 10:26 AM |

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Police should be equipped with devices such as Blackberrys to increase visibility while also cutting costs, according to a London Assembly report.

Use of personal digital assistants were just one of the recommendations from the Assembly's Budget and Performance Committee report into the future of police in the capital.

The report, which looks at the need for cost saving measures in the force, urges numbers in police roles such as forensics not to needlessly be cut in an attempt to have more officers seen on the street.

City and East Assembly member John Biggs said the Metropolitan Police Service should "be clever" in its cost cutting measure and one of those ways was by embracing technology.

"The police need to look at new technologies," he said. "One way we discussed was for police officers to use PDAs, such as Blackberrys, for filling in standard forms when there's a moment spare.

"It means they won't have to rush back to the office to complete reports.

"You need to think through the balance between back office and front line police officers and aim to get front line police officers out from behind desks and on to the streets."

A trial of the scheme was launched by the Met in 2008 and a roll-out was due to commence, however the plans hit trouble due to technical problems.

The committee has urged the Met to take the project forward.

It was one of seven recommendations made by the committee to the Met, which is faced with having to make £600million in savings by 2015.

The report, however, also agrees some back office costs need to be cut.

Mr Biggs said: "We've had a decade of growth and we now have a period of savings and cutbacks. The question is how can we maintain confidence during this period.

"We can make progress by cutting back on support costs and you can also see what officers are stuck behind desks and if you can improve that."

But Mr Biggs added there was a danger of oversimplifying matters by reacting to calls for non-frontline staff to be cut, which risks losing important police staff.

"If there's a robbery you see police officers whizzing around in cars but there's also forensic staff dusting for fingerprints and others preparing files for the prosecution," said Mr Biggs.

"There's a whole batch of professionals within the service that need to be there."

The committee also urged the Met to look at the size of some specialist teams and the resources given to them. It said these teams have which have grown in a "piecemeal' and inefficient manner" in recent years.

A spokesman for the Met said it has bee "very proactive" in identifying savings in areas such as estate, vehicles and contracts.

"In order to keep London safe it is necessary to maintain a balance of highly visible uniform officers and specialist investigators who have the additional skills to target rapists, child abusers, and drug and people traffickers," he said.

"Finding the £600m savings that we are likely to have to make by 2015 is extremely challenging but the Met is committed to keeping the capital safe whilst it does so."