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A quarter of police forces tell victims to collect evidence to reduce face-to-face visits

Police forces across the country should ask crime victims to collect their own evidence in a bid to cut down on personal visits, The Mail on Sunday can reveal.

Twelve armed forces have signed up to use the program that allows agents to text or email a website link to victims asking them to upload evidence, such as video clips or images.

These include the Metropolitan Police, Staffordshire, Cumbria, West Midlands, Hertfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Bedfordshire, who have adopted ‘Axon Citizen’ made by the US company behind the TASER.

Fears of the coronavirus spreading have led forces across the country to adopt the system to “limit exposure to members of the public,” Axon said.

Officers increasingly use the program to limit 'exposure to members of the public' during the pandemic (file image)

Officers increasingly use the program to limit ‘exposure to members of the public’ during the pandemic (file image)

Mike Ashby-Clarke, Axon’s UK manager and former Met Police official, revealed that the coronavirus pandemic had caused a ‘shift’ in adoption of the technology.

“Over the past decade, it has been a very outdated method of collecting digital evidence,” he told a conference titled “policing the pandemic” earlier this month.

“Officers driving to someone’s house, knocking on their door, questioning the cell phones or physical CCTV system, carrying media and driving back to the police station, stuffing in a physical bag – this happens hundreds of thousands of times a day.

“It’s not necessary, the pandemic has pushed that technology out and made a huge difference — protecting police officers not only from unnecessary face-to-face contact, but also from episodes of mental health that they didn’t need to be exposed to — certain images, videos – there is editing software that is very easy to use.’

“It was great to see that the unfortunate pandemic caused a shift in people’s adoption of that technology, and the benefits that we can learn from that is hopefully they will stay… and make sure we don’t step back.” ‘

The Mail on Sunday revealed in June that the Met Police had tried out the new system, but was now forcibly rolling it out.

Scotland Yard estimated that Axon Citizen, which will cost £847,000 over the next two years, would save 27,000 staff days per year.

It said processing one piece of physical media could take up to three hours, while the new system takes just a few minutes, allowing officers to focus more on violent street crime or the “12,000 domestic violence cases reported each month.”

But victim groups and charities for the elderly have warned that the program should not replace officers who visit people who report crimes and who may need support or a face-to-face meeting, such as the elderly or the vulnerable.

Dame Esther Rantzen, who founded the Silver Line charity for the elderly, said: ‘Unfortunately, older people are vulnerable to crime and dependent on the police. You can deprive them of their rights because they are not comfortable or are not on the internet.

‘But your presence is also an important way of restoring and reassuring their trust.

“A very high percentage of the older people I meet don’t even own a computer, let alone feel comfortable uploading evidence of information onto a computer.” There is something very reassuring about the actual police visit, because you can ask for all kinds of advice. ‘

Jeffrey DeMarco, of Victim Support, said: “As police time is increasing, it’s important to use new and creative ways to aid investigations.

“However, we must not forget that not all victims are able to use digital platforms, especially those who do not have access to the internet or have limited language skills.

‘Face-to-face contact with the police remains important for many victims who need help, advice and reassurance after a crime.

“These victims must not be left behind and the police must ensure that these people still get the contact they need and deserve.”

Headquartered in Arizona, USA, Axon was the company behind the Police TASER and already provides a police service for uploading bodycam footage of officers.

Last year, MoS troops also developed a new mobile app called MyPolice that allows victims to upload evidence themselves, including photos and statements.

An Axon spokeswoman said: “Beyond the pandemic, we’ve seen Citizen technology help reduce the administrative burden that officers often face, allowing them to spend more time with their communities.

“We are working closely with the police to provide new and innovative technology that allows them to serve the public safely and innovatively, putting victims and witnesses at the center of any investigation.

“Independent research gives us clear evidence that technology has a clear and positive impact on both investigations and their outcomes, in the form of prosecutions.”

Chief Constable Olivia Pinkney, of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, said: “An increasing amount of evidence being provided to the police is now being received digitally.

“Receiving this information must be managed in an organized, consistent and accessible manner.

“Giving the public the additional opportunity to submit digital evidence to the police, such as video footage online, for those who prefer that approach, offers significant benefits, such as more efficient crime investigation and ease of use.

“It does not hinder accessibility for those who want to report through traditional means, nor does it replace real interaction with agents where it is needed.”

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