British police forces are putting “Dickensian”, paper-based transactions with members of the public online, starting with firearms licensing.
Matthew Bennion-Pedley, director of resources, UK Policing, said the e-commerce initiative is the first time that a consortium of police forces has signed up for and invested in a digital programme that has not been mandated by government.
Some 38 forces in England and Wales have either got involved or expressed interest so far, and it is open to forces in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the British Transport Police.
Bennion-Pedley, who acts as the programme director, e-commerce for policing, said putting the firearms licensing process online was a harbinger. Other transactional processes, where the public pays the police money, will go digital, and other interactions, such as "community speed watch", could follow suit.
Software AG is providing the technology and support behind the programme. It won a request for tender process in autumn 2010 that attracted 28 candidates, “including five heavyweights", he said.
“We’ll probably shift the programme to e-business, but there are transactional processes, such as subject access requests and criminal records bureau checks, where people do pay us,” he added.
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Bennion-Pedley cited Amazon as a model. “The citizen will have an account, through the Government Gateway, with the police.
“At present we’ve got police staff inputting data twice – it costs time and money. It’s all very antiquated, Dickensian even, especially when compared with how people conduct their relationships with commercial companies," he said.
“The police service as a whole needs to save money. Take firearms as an example. It only costs £50 for a licence for five years, £40 to renew. But if we wanted to increase that fee, which has been the same since 2001, we’d need to offer a better service.”
The online firearms licensing service will go live with five forces in the autumn, said Bennion-Pedley.
He reported that the shooting sports associations, at least as represented by Shooting Times, see the new process as a step in the right direction.
Bennion-Pedley estimates five million transactions per year on the e-commerce platform, for a range of processes broader than just firearms. It is expected to save £7 per transaction in processing time, or £35m. On top, they expect £10m in fees from the firearms licensing.
To encourage police forces to join up, he said it was "operating as a ‘co-operative’ of police forces, with different ones taking the lead on different services and being offered a seat on the programme board”.
Bennion-Pedley said the programme has “energetic supporters”, signally Andy Marsh, deputy chief constable, Hampshire, and ACPO lead on firearms and explosives licensing.
He said the intention was to unfold a digital complement to current interactions with policing, such as through the BBC’s Crimewatch television programme. “Our intelligence will become much richer,” he added.