Public Services > Police

How can the Met create an effective digital service for police and the public?

Published 02 December 2015

Chief Inspector Mike Loebenberg and Superintendent Ade Hutchinson discuss implementing the force's digital vision

Life on Mars

Back in the day, joining the Met as a young constable was all about walking the beat and fighting crime. It still is, and yet it's so much more. Now, we're also focused on protecting people from threats and potential harm before, not after, something bad happens. It's our job to manage risks to public safety, and that's a bigger task than fighting crime. Perhaps as a consequence, our own way of managing risks has created a culture of paperwork and bureaucracy so we can document all we've done. Indeed, we expect the public to do the same. At times, it feels like the process has taken over. And then digital came along.

Digital is disrupting policing just like any other public service or the private sector. It has put new demands upon us; cyber and online criminality, modern tools for committing old-fashioned crimes, new sources of evidence even - communications data is digital DNA. And, of course, it's redefining the way the public want to engage with us. All this gives us opportunity to reimagine policing to be more convenient and accessible to the public whilst being more efficient for the tax-payer. We don't have to abandon process, but we can make it faster, automated, better for the public, better for the frontline officer.

12 months ago, the Met set in motion programmes which will alter the way we operate and transform the relationship the public has with the police. This first involved a challenging process to develop a digital vision to enhance public access, describing how the public would be able to use digital channels alongside our established 101 number, via a modernised website, offering live chat and engagement through social media. At the same time we looked at how mobile technology can enable us to deliver a better service, keeping officers on the street. All of this must support our ultimate goal of making London the safest global city.

When you joined the Met in 1991 it was all about 'coppers on the beat', walking your patch and fighting crime. While that philosophy is still true today, over the years, the paperwork has grown and grown as policing has tried to manage risk through elaborate checks and re-checks. At times, it feels like the process has taken over. And then digital came along. Now we have an opportunity to free ourselves and the public from all those constraints.

Putting the public at the heart of the Met

Our vision is simple. We want to be the best crime fighters, we want to earn the trust and confidence of every community, and we want people to respect and be proud of London's Metropolitan Police Service. We knew we needed a clear strategy to enable us to use digital channels to engage with the public. And we knew that following a customer-centric approach was the right way to achieve this.

Implementing a digital strategy wasn't simply about putting in place new technology or how we provide our systems and processes. It was more about how the public experience those processes. We had to look down the lens from a customer perspective. We had to understand what the current experience is like when contacting the police and how that experience might change using digital channels. And we wanted that digital experience to be as helpful, personal and reassuring as approaching an officer on the street.

Sounds straightforward? Maybe, but police and public alike have a powerful emotional attachment to ringing 999 or 101 to call for help, or finding the nearest police station or police officer when in trouble. To understand how digital could supplement these traditional points of contact, the MPS commissioned a behavioural and organisational change consultancy, WAE, to help us design our digital future.

Breaking the mould

At the outset we ran a number of workshops and focus groups to gain insights from the public. We found that the public really do value that first contact on the 'phone but they're more than ready to use digital channels to engage with the police. In fact, they surprised us with their willingness to consider using live chat and messaging and their expectation that some services were already available online. They saw no reason why policing shouldn't adapt like other public services or utilities.

But there was also a bit of a blocker. The public were unclear how police procedures work, and they didn't want to waste police time. They waited to be told what to do, in what one researcher described as a 'parent/child relationship' with the police. Not only does this put a huge onus on our officers, it also doesn't empower people in the relationship. It shows that we need to be better at informing citizens so that they can be allowed to make decisions about which channel to use and how to help police, rather than wait for us to tell them what to do.

This approach was a revelation. Traditional approaches to large-scale transformation of this nature typically focus on the technology, and while technology is really important, we found that in reality it is just the enabler. Working with a specialist like WAE really helped us to focus on the critical areas that needed to change. WAE challenged, in a healthy way, the organisational culture, rather than trying to blend in with 'the way things are done round here'. This was coupled with a recognition that part of their role was to excite and engage the Met through their own passion for digital.

RIP the police officer's notebook

To give the public the digital service they deserve, the Met also needs to equip our officers with the right digital tools. Any chance of a seamless service to the public would disappear pretty quickly if an officer couldn't access information the public could, or was still reliant on a notebook to record an individual's statement.

So in parallel with offering the public a digital gateway, we've been developing a mobile solution for police officers. As well helping us to help the public directly, it has the potential to drive enormous efficiency. Digitising the process of taking a statement, or capturing and sharing crime reporting data, frees the officer from frequent returns to the police station. It is, dare we say it, the end of the police officer's notebook.

Whilst this project was primarily about equipping front-line officers with mobile devices, in reality, you can't simply put an officer out on the streets and give them access to the police national computer. We had to work with WAE to break down a big complex issue like this and make it simple, quick and easy to do. So short of time, with legacy technology, with high security, and not a great budget we tasked them with coming up with a simple pilot.

Rather than take a big bang approach, we decided to develop a pilot system to enhance three key areas of The Met's Crime Reporting Information System (CRIS) using an iPad mini - enabling officers to quickly and efficiently report crimes and missing persons, collect evidence and record witness statements.

During a series of workshops, we were able to go through the processes, workflows and methodologies that we were using and really understand where problems exist by mapping the current journey and user experience. The existing processes were extremely cumbersome and time consuming to use. In addition the system was very much designed for a desktop rather than a mobile environment. Through this process, core underlying problems were identified, as well as issues with workflows and the user interface.

With a clear vision to minimise paperwork, improve the flow of information and help officers make urgent decisions, WAE implemented collaborative, user-centred methodologies to create an end-to-end mobile service. Workshops with stakeholders provided key insights to crystallise the vision, develop storyboards, design the interface and compile a best-practice toolkit. We were able to plan the tactical integration of a mobile device to address some of the shortcomings in user experience with storyboards describing a future strategic vision of how a front-line officer would use a tablet on location in the community.

A step-by-step approach

We knew there would be challenges around information security and procedures. We therefore had to define very carefully the various steps we needed to go through if someone is reporting a crime as otherwise this could become a major inhibitor to progress. Together we went through a co-discovery process with our officers and our customers.

Mobile CRIS and eStatements were the first two Apps to be provisioned to officers for mobile use via iPad. A trial of the system ran in the Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham and the Mobility Pilot went live late July 2014.

The mobile system now allows officers to record statements, capture evidence, both photographic and voice on the device. This information is then stored on the device and at the end of each crime-scene investigation, officers package the information, digitally sign it, and then it is ready to be passed onto the justice system.

The results speak for themselves

Today the CRIS system is used by more than 500 officers with mobile devices. In the space of just six months, 14,100 crime reports were created via iPad, more than 60,500 crime reports were retrieved to officers' devices, and in August 2015 90.28% of crime reports created by 'Response Officers' in the pilot were created using an iPad. Since July 2014 there have been more than 17,500 eStatements produced.

We are just at the start of our journey and other projects are in progress such as how to help customers who want to engage non-emergency services via digital channels rather than the natural default being a call. We are also developing a new website to enable dynamic crime reporting that is fit for a digital public. It is very exciting to be part of this journey. We have officers spending more time back on the beat thanks to mobility, and the future digital service design truly sees a convenient, appropriate and efficient service for the public.

Chief Inspector Mike Loebenberg is a member of the Public Access Programme and Superintendent Ade Hutchinson is lead for mobile technology at the Metropolitan Police

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