‘Digital police station’ makes service fit for 21st century

A pioneering technology system that has revolutionised the way people report crime online is to be rolled out to all police forces over the coming year – in a bid to make the service “more fit for its 21st-century purpose”.

Jul 31, 2020
By Paul Jacques
Ed Hardman

Currently used by 19 police forces, Single Online Home (SOH) – built by Leeds-based communications firm CDS – provides essential triaging abilities, which filters forms before they are put through to the police, ultimately reducing pressure on an already-strained 101 service.

And, having processed more than 2.5 million crime reports to date, SOH demonstrated its ability to support both the public and operational policing during the coronavirus lockdown – the height of the pandemic saw more than 600,000 user sessions and 30,000 Covid-19 breach report submissions in the Easter Bank Holiday weekend alone.

The portal, funded by the Home Office, is regarded as “possibly the most significant change in UK policing since the introduction of the 999-emergency number”.

SOH is now available to more than half the UK, providing the public with a digital alternative to dialling 101.

HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary Sir Thomas Winsor singled out SOH for praise in his Annual Assessment of Policing in England and Wales, but said the approach to wider police information and communications technology (ICT) arrangements still has “ample room for improvement”.

His report highlighted an increase in the proportion of crime reported online, while also raising concerns about the lack of a cohesive approach to technology by police forces across England and Wales.

Claiming the police’s ICT arrangements do not work together well enough, the report states there are “various options open to leaders to develop better-connected and integrated structures, systems and processes. These improvements would make the service more fit for its 21st-century purpose”.

One such improvement could be continued investment and uptake of the SOH platform – designed to give the public a consistent means of interacting virtually with police forces – which was highlighted as a positive development.

During the coronavirus lockdown, CDS increased capabilities to cope with a surge in demand. Planning and delivering a robust solution on the SOH platform to deal with Covid-19 requirements in just three weeks – spanning either side of lockdown – a six-strong development team from CDS obtained six months’ worth of temporary licence increases to handle the extra demand, as well as carrying out stability improvements to the website.

Ed Hardman, account director at CDS said: “Since its inception in 2019, the point of the SOH was to offer customers a choice of channel for engaging with the police, including reporting crime, while also allowing UK police services to provide nationally consistent, but locally branded, services, brought together in a single ‘digital police station’.

“The Annual Assessment of Policing highlights the need for a joined-up approach from forces across the country. With a rise in cross-border crimes, and a shift in the types of offences we’re seeing, a collaborative, ideas-sharing approach is central to safeguarding the long-term future of local forces.”

Future developments include new services for the public and integrating the platform with police back-office systems.

Simon Cole, chief constable of Leicestershire Police and SOH senior responsible officer, added: “The agility and commitment in supporting operational policing that the team, including CDS, demonstrated in making this happen was absolute. By working together, policing and our partners will do our part in helping our communities through a difficult time, as we always do.”

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