UK police test cost-cutting with Skype interviews

LONDON (AFP) - Victims of non-emergency crimes in Britain are being asked to conduct police interviews via online phone service Skype to cut costs, the constabulary pioneering the scheme said on Friday (Oct 30).

Cambridgeshire Constabulary in eastern England, which is trialing the scheme in the city of Peterborough, hopes it will provide more flexibility than the current method of home visits, allowing better response time.

Crimes reported on the non-emergency 101 telephone number will be assessed on a case-by-case basis and the victims will be advised whether to continue via phone, Skype or with a home visit.

Under the scheme - to be rolled out from Tuesday - older victims, those unfamiliar with technology and victims of more personal crimes could still be interviewed at home, a force spokesman told AFP.

Forces across the country are turning to technology to help plug the funding gap caused by spending cuts imposed to reduce Britain's deficit.

Oz Merrygold, secretary of Cambridgeshire Police Federation, said it was "just not possible anymore" to visit homes for all crimes.

"We're having to redefine the way we police," he said.

Former officer Clive Chamberlain criticised the measure as "virtual policing".

"This is such a retrograde step - but when budgets are slashed by millions 'virtual policing' is going to be the norm," he wrote on Twitter.

Retired London officer Norman Brennan added that "personal" crimes such as burglary should always require a home visit.

Melanie Dales, area commander for Peterborough, insisted that the initiative would improve their service.

"We understand people have busy lives and this service will provide flexibility, with appointments from 8am to 10pm seven days a week," she said.

"It will allow officers, who use a large proportion of their time travelling across the city to and from appointments, more time to patrol their neighbourhoods.

"Also, by using modern technology such as Skype, we are increasing our efficiency and ensuring we are able to respond to people in a shorter time frame," she added.