EWS pilot saves hundreds of hours of police time

A three-month National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA) pilot to enable police officers to spend more time on the beat by using digital technology to take witness statements has been estimated to have saved around 780 hours of police time in two forces.

Sep 27, 2012
By Paul Jacques
Custody photos of Danny Brown, Stefan Baldauf, Peter Murray, Tony Borg, Leon Reilly and Philip Lawson

A three-month National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA) pilot to enable police officers to spend more time on the beat by using digital technology to take witness statements has been estimated to have saved around 780 hours of police time in two forces.

The NPIA’s Digital Evidence Pilot was run in Hampshire and Avon and Somerset to test the benefits of police officers on the beat using laptops and personal digital assistants (PDAs) to securely and authentically, record information rather than pen and paper. It also incorporated a smaller pilot on electronic police notebooks in Surrey Police.

Taking witness statements electronically enabled officers to complete statements around 15 minutes quicker on average. It also enabled officers to send them back to the force in less than a minute without having to return to the police station.

Hampshire Constabulary is now rolling out the electronic witness statement (EWS) system, developed in association with Airpoint, to further districts across the force area, including Havant, Waterlooville and Park Gate. In addition, 370 touchscreen terminals will be issued to the constabulary’s Public Protection Department, major investigation teams, area and district CID teams, custody investigation teams and the Professional Standards Department.

Around 150 police officers were involved in the Hampshire pilot, launched in Gosport in October 2011, which enabled first accounts to be recorded directly onto the incident record, which once inputted can be annotated but not changed, maintaining the evidential integrity of the statement. Witnesses, including police officers, can then sign their statement using the terminal’s touchscreen at which point the time and date is recorded electronically.??

Approximately 8,500 statements are taken by Hampshire police officers every month, 50 per cent of which are handwritten.

Staff will also no longer be required to retype statements for court; court files can be prepared and provided to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) digitally, saving considerable paper and time.

Chief inspector Cleave Faulkner, Hampshire Constabulary’s mobile information lead, said: “This new technology completely changes our processes; reducing unnecessary bureaucracy, preventing paper wastage and most importantly keeping our officers out on the streets where the public wants them.”

He added that until now, officers had also relied on wireless internet access to use their terminals, meaning the machines can become difficult to use in very rural areas. With EWS officers can work offline and when they return to wireless coverage, statements are automatically uploaded to the system.

The EWS Smartform app is expected to be deployed across Hampshire and the Isle of Wight by the end of December and may eventually be used for other processes requiring evidential documentation, such as interviews and legal authorisation for premises searches. It also has the potential to be used in court for warrant applications.

Chief Insp Faulkner said it was important that policing moved with the times.

“The EWS Smartform makes the whole statement-gathering process more efficient and cost-effective at the touch of a button while supporting the national move to a streamlined criminal justice process.”

Forcewide annual cashable saving in excess of £300,000 were identified by Avon and Somerset Constabulary following the conclusion of its EWS pilot. Frontline efficiency savings of 53 hours were also realised during last year’s 15-week pilot in South Gloucestershire using HeliMedia’s Form Patrol® software.

Officers took statements using their mobile computers and then captured signatures using the touchscreen and stylus. This information was then securely and automatically transmitted for onward processing in near real-time using the built-in HSPDA (high-speed downlink packet access) modem.

As a result of the success of the pilot, the NPIA has published Association of Chief P

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