Police forces across the country are to ask crime victims to collect their own evidence in an attempt to cut down on face-to-face visits, The Mail on Sunday can reveal.
Twelve forces have signed up to use the program which allows officers to text or email a website link to victims asking them to upload evidence such as video clips or images.
They include the Metropolitan Police, Staffordshire, Cumbria, West Midlands, Hertfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Bedfordshire, among others, which have adopted ‘Axon Citizen’, made by the US firm behind the TASER.
Fears of spreading coronavirus has seen forces across the country adopt the system to limit ‘exposure to members of the public’, according to Axon.
Officers have been increasingly using the program during the pandemic to limit ‘exposure to members of the public’ (file image)
Mike Ashby-Clarke, Axon’s UK manager and a former Met Police officer, revealed the coronavirus pandemic had caused a ‘shift’ in the adoption of the technology.
‘In the last decade it’s been a very antiquated method of collecting digital evidence,’ he told a conference meeting titled ‘policing the pandemic’ earlier this month.
‘Officers driving to someone’s house, knocking their door, interrogating the mobile phones or physical CCTV system, taking media and driving back to the police station, put in a physical bag – this is happening hundreds of thousands of times a day.
‘There is no need, the pandemic has pushed that technology out and has made a huge difference – not only does it protect police officers from unnecessary face to face contact, but also protected them from mental health episodes they didn’t need to be exposed to – certain images, videos – there’s redaction software that’s very simple to use.’
‘It was great to see the unfortunate pandemic causing a shift in people’s adoption of that technology, and the benefits we can learn from that is hopefully they remain…and ensure we don’t take a backward step.’
The Mail on Sunday revealed in June that the Met Police had been trialling the new system but was now rolling it out force-wide.
Scotland Yard estimated that Axon Citizen, which will cost £847,000 over the next two years, would save 27,000 staff days a year.
It said one processing one piece of physical media can take up to three hours whereas the new system takes just a few minutes, allowing officers to focus more on violent street crime or the ‘12,000 cases of domestic abuse reported every month’.
But victims’ groups and charities for the elderly have warned that the programme must not replace officers visiting those reporting crimes who may need support or a face-to-face meeting, such as the elderly or vulnerable.
Dame Esther Rantzen, who founded the charity Silver Line for the elderly, said: ‘Unfortunately older people are vulnerable to crime and do depend on the police, you may be disenfranchising them because they are not comfortable or not on the internet.
‘But also your presence is an important way of restoring their confidence and reassuring them.
‘A very high percentage of older people I meet don’t even own a computer, let alone feel comfortable uploading information evidence on to a computer.’There is something very reassuring about the actual police visit because you can ask all kinds of advice.’
Jeffrey DeMarco, of Victim Support, said: ‘As police face increasing demands on their time, it is important new and creative ways to help investigations are used.
‘However we must remember that not all victims can engage with digital platforms, particularly those who can’t access the internet or have limited language skills.
‘Face-to-face contact with the police remains important to many victims who need help, advice and reassurance after experiencing crime.
‘These victims must not be left behind and the police must ensure these people still get the contact that they need and deserve.’
Axon, which is headquartered in Arizona, the US, was the company behind the police TASER and already provides a police service for uploading officers’ body cam footage.
Last year the MoS revealed forces were also developing a new mobile app called MyPolice which could allow victims to upload evidence themselves, including photos and statements.
An Axon spokeswoman said: ‘Outside of the pandemic we’ve seen that Citizen technology helps reduce the administrative burden that officers often face which helps them spend more time with their communities.
‘We work closely with the police to provide new and innovative technology to help them serve the public safely, innovatively and with victims and witnesses at the heart of every investigation.
‘Independent research gives us clear evidence that technology is having a clear and positive impact on both the investigations and their outcomes, in the form of prosecutions.’
Chief Constable Olivia Pinkney, of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, said: ‘An ever-increasing volume of evidence provided to police is now received digitally.
‘Receiving this information must be managed in an organised, consistent and accessible way.
‘Providing the public the additional opportunity to submit digital evidence to the police such as video footage online, for those that prefer that approach, offers significant benefits such as more efficient investigation of crime and ease of use.
‘It will not hinder accessibility for those who wish to report through traditional means, nor will it replace real interaction with officers where that is appropriate.’