'Virtual policing to be the norm' with crime victims facing Skype interviews


Police plans to speak to victims of crime on Skype instead of visiting their home are being linked to slashed budgets.

The move, part of a trial aiming to allow more time for neighbourhood patrols, has been criticised by some as a "retrograde step" amid fears that older people and those less able to afford computers are being forgotten. 

People will be encouraged to call, Skype or visit the police station after reporting a crime, with home visits only made "where necessary".

The trial, launched by Cambridgeshire police in Peterborough on Wednesday, aims to provide more flexibility for victims, as well as allowing better response times, the force said.

Oz Merrygold, secretary of Cambridgeshire Police Federation, said that due to cuts to policing it is "just not possible anymore" to visit homes that have been broken into for example.

"We're having to redefine the way we police," he said, adding that part of that is about modernising, while another part of it is also "dealing with the austerity measures".

Mr Merrygold said that while he believes face to face contact is very important, he has to accept that the progression of technology means that more and more contact will be made through social media. 

He said cuts have had a "dramatic" effect on policing, and said the people who will be hit hardest by the Skype idea will be the older generation who are not as familiar with using computers or communicating via Skype.

He also pointed out that not everyone can afford computers, and said: "The most vulnerable in society need to be protected."

Meanwhile, former officer Clive Chamberlain said the change is ushering in an era of "virtual policing".

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

Retired London officer Norman Brennan said "personal" crimes require officers to visit a person's home.

He wrote: "Burglary victims need an officer to attend their home it's a personal crime!"

He added: "Due to police cuts don't expect Police to attend contact police via online! Cutshaveconsequences."

Area commander for Peterborough, Superintendent Melanie Dales said they will provide an emergency response as required.

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

"This initiative will bring the police more in line with other services, such as doctors' surgeries, and as with the health service our emergency response will be there when required.

"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."