While 999 will always rightly be the channel for emergency contact, the alternatives for routine channels are growing. Such has the pace of change been that the previous National Police Chiefs’ Council National Contact Management Strategic Plan did not factor in a nationally consistent digital platform for the public to use in its previous edition, nor did it anticipate the ‘operalisation’ of social media as a contact channel.
This has all changed with the recent publication of the National Contact Management Strategic Plan 2023-28, which is highlighted in ACC Catherine Akehurst’s article on Emergency Services Times.
Single Online Home
We still have the web-based platform, known as Single Online Home (SOH), which was set up in 2018. It offers the public a ‘digital front counter’ with a range of services to report crimes and incidents and access information such as who your local neighbourhood policing team are, and nationally consistent crime prevention advice.
To give the public a boundary-less experience, alongside forces retaining their own identity, SOH will by the summer of 2024 be used by 41 out of 43 Home Office forces, as well as the British Transport Police and several other policing organisations and a handful of Police and Crime Commissioners.
This is the heart of routine contact and where the public can self-serve on transactional matters with more than 5.6 million contacts submitted to forces since January 2021. The site is continually evolving in what it offers. A spiking specific service went live earlier this year and is currently with 20 forces. A stalking and harassment service is next. While these are not the low-harm, high volume service SOH was originally designed for, they are what the public and policing want and are using. What we often hear is it gives the victim control over how and when they report, without the need to relive their experiences by talking to anyone.
With SOH at a point of near national consistency and a vast array of services in existence, we are now focusing efforts on making it work harder for policing and breaking ground on evolving the digital front counter to give the public greater engagement and digital access.
Strategic Integration Hub
The Strategic Integration Hub, or iHub as we call it, takes the public reports through SOH and transfers them straight into policing systems. This entirely removes the need for these reports to be manually processed into the differing systems used across the policing environment. We know it is saving around 10 minutes per form received, meaning forces can better utilise their staff where they are needed.
Robotics Process Automation (RPA) is something often said in the same breath as the iHub. It’s important to distinguish between the two and not choose one over another. They need to work in harmony with the iHub getting data to where it needs to be from system to system, and RPA, as the name suggests automating an otherwise human process.
The iHub is crucial to how we move SOH on too. This next evolution is called the Citizen Portal. It is a secure and personalised portal where the public can get updates on incidents they have reported and access more relevant policing content based on their preferences. This will have a direct impact on the ‘failure demand’ issue by updating victims in a timely manner.
It is an evolutionary and revolutionary step forward for the public and policing bringing us closer to what is already on offer in the private sector when we think about how the public access their banking information for example – this is the expectation that has been set.
The iHub will support the data transfer around this environment too, meaning that forces looking at a Portal will need integrations already in place. The crucial question is how are we going to make this happen? The Home Secretary and Policing Minister announced in August that funding has been agreed for us to deliver the Portal with Humberside Police which will be the starting point towards the next nationally consistent public offering. We hope it will be the start of a new national approach to citizen engagement, re-imagining the original SOH journey for the future.