Northumbria Police has said it needs £2m to keep its reduced force on the streets by using smartphones and computer tablets.
A funding bid has been made to the police commissioner to equip the frontline force with iPad-style technology in a bid to make the most of cut-hit manpower. The technology would allow them to file reports and stay out on the beat rather than returning to the station.
The iPhone bid comes as the force reveals police officer numbers in Northumbria are continuing to reduce year on year. Officials have said that currently there is a greater turnover of officers than predicted, with approximately 200 officers per year leaving through retirement or resignations.
Now, in a bid to keep officers on the street, commissioner Vera Baird has been asked by chief constable Sue Sim’s team to consider £2m bid to hand officers new phones and electronic tablets.
Such a move is one of many being considered to prevent a dwindling number of officers being kept in stations processing paperwork and gathering intelligence reports rather than being on the streets.
The Labour commissioner, who has not yet approved the spending plan, has been told the cash is needed because much of their current secure mobile information system is “disjointed and old fashioned”.
While the technology behind it can likely be adapted, the force needs to bring in cutting-edge new mobile phones for officers.
Assistant chief constable Greg Vant said: “One of the options we are looking at is the introduction of smartphones and tablets for officers out on the beat.
“Historically officers have always had to rely upon support from colleagues in the communications centres to access information while they are out in communities, they also have to return to police buildings to access and update information.”
He added: “The issue of cost is an important one and during a trial project the force carried out it was found that the new technology could be made to work with existing IT systems and equipment and avoid the need for wholesale replacement or renewal.
“The investment needed for the technology to be rolled out across the force would be spent on new technology and upgrading current IT and equipment to make it compatible with the new devices.
“It’s anticipated that any money spent on upgrading the systems would be recovered in efficiency savings.
“In today’s society the public would expect officers to be equipped with mobile technology and the introduction of tablets and smartphones, together with redesigned processes, would improve the force’s intelligence led policing capability, better inform front line officers and ultimately help make communities safer.”
When the chief constable had her team pitch the plan, Ms Baird insisted it would only be allowed, if at all, as part of wider considerations over ongoing payroll pressures.
Already the Commissioner is having to look again at her budget after the Home Office announced cuts up to 2014 will see 20% wiped off force spending.
Last night Ms Baird said: “People can be reassured I am committed to ensuring any money spent by the force is subject to thorough scrutiny to ensure it delivers value for money and benefits the communities in Northumbria.
“Investing in modern technology will ultimately help officers be more accessible to the public, with initial spends offset by long term efficiency savings.”