Cambridgeshire Police are due to launch an online route for reporting crime shortly. The new service is already live at:
Providing an online route for reporting crime is excellent news, it is something I’ve been lobbying for. I think this has the potential to reduce the threshold people have for getting in touch with the police and letting them know what’s going on. Hopefully it will free up the 101 line too for those who need, or choose, to call.
I wouldn’t want to tie up a member of staff, and a phone line, reporting dangerous driving I experience when walking and cycling around Cambridge for example, but I might submit reports online of particularly egregious bad driving which has put me and others at risk if I can effectively enter them directly into the police’s computer system, enabling them to better see the scale of the problem, and key locations.
It is surprising the new crime reporting form is not on the police.uk domain. The police.uk domain would give an assurance the site is genuine; running the contact form on a separate site looks dodgy, lacks credibility and perhaps indicates a level of technical incompetence and chaos within the force. Hopefully the form will be properly integrated with the main police website soon.
There appear to be many problems with the form at the moment, such as requiring a victim’s name and date of birth, ethnicity, nationality, address and more even if you’ve stated you are not the victim of the crime; hopefully this will be rapidly addressed.
The form currently isn’t designed to accept video and photograph uploads, hopefully that too is something which can be added as making it easier to provide such material to the police is surely one of the big advantages of an online form over a phone call.
The lack of an anonymous reporting option will I expect also be a problem for people who just want to let the police know about something that has happened; without encouraging the police to turn their attentions on them. (There is though a pointer to the properly anonymous and independent reporting form from CrimeStoppers.)
The large number of compulsory fields makes the form unwieldy and it looks unlikley the new form will be quick and easy to use from a mobile device.
I hope that there are appropriate back-end systems to support the new form and data is entered directly into police computer systems; I certainly hope no-one is having to copy and paste, or re-type the reported information.
One odd element of the new police contact website, of which the crime reporting form is part, is an offer to sell people collision reports for £91.80 (they should be accessible via a Subject Access Request under the Data Protection Act, fees for which are capped at £10)
The police are also pointing to other places you can report things in the force area, while encouraging people to use FixMyStreet to report potholes and streetlights out is an excellent option for Peterborough the police don’t appear to have noticed councillors in Cambridgeshire refuse to accept such reports.
The new police contact website’s terms and conditions refer to users being able to publish material on the site, so perhaps there are plans for enabling some kinds of contact with the police to be made in public.
I hope this is just a quick first attempt at a new online contact system which will be rapidly developed and iterated to meet users’ needs and will become part of the way we contact our police. I wouldn’t be surprised though if it’s the finished product from an expensive IT outsourcing project and it could be many years before the process of making a report to the police in Cambridgeshire online meets public expectations.