My experience with the police this week tells me that they are underfunded and the system of communications between police forces are broken.

Let me also start by saying that our police do an amazing job, dealing with very difficult and challenging situations and people – they have my full support, but that does not go without criticism about my experience for what should be a simple and easy process.

The Event

Early this week I witnessed a road traffic accident. The incident took place just ahead of me on a zebra crossing when a scooter hit a pedestrian. The pedestrian was knocked to the floor and suffered minor scratches and bruises, and the rider came of his bike. There is no question the fault was with the rider who overtook a high sided vehicle that had stopped to let me and other people (including the pedestrian) cross.

It could have been much worse. A step forward for the woman in front of me, it would have been head on, and step more for me and it would have been me knocked to the ground too.

I checked the woman was not seriously injured. I helped her up. The rider got to his feet too. It was a busy high street in Surbiton (Metropolitan Police). The rider verbal said he was going to stop, and indeed move to park his scooter up.

I helped the woman off the road, allowing traffic it continue and she went to speak to the rider. It was obvious she was very shaken, bruised and stressed. Her priority to get to work. It was then the rider began ‘fobbing’ her off – taking no responsibility. At this point I went to take a photo of the rider. I was about 3 meters away, he came over and smashed my arm hard and sent my phone flying. I realised I had just been assaulted. I rang 999. Also at this point other people standing around stepped forward as I stepped back and dialled. The rider got more aggressive, got on his scooter and sped off. The police on the phone spoke to the woman, and then spoke to me. Various witnesses came forward with their own photos of the number plate. At the end of the call I was told to report the assault at my local police station in St Albans – and it would get connected to the accident.

I walked with the woman to get her train – stressed about missing a meeting. I have no idea why she didn’t just go home. She was shaking, I was shaking.

St Albans Police Station – An Office With A Telephone

I’ve been a victim of crime a number of times in recent years. Every time after reviewing CCTV nobody was identified – but each time the police where respectful, caring and I knew the chance of finding the offenders were small.

St Albans is a small market City about 20 minutes from London by train. The police station is now closed. What exists of the public facing police is in the Council Offices, just a room with some crime related posters, and a yellow vandal proof telephone with three buttons 1, 2 and 3. Press one to speak to someone. I spoke to someone (I don’t know where they were located) but they said they would see if an officer would be able to come and speak to me there (they had no idea I was in this room until I told them!) and to wait on the phone. I waited for minutes. I hung up. I rang again. This time another person said an officer may or may not come out, but they couldn’t tell me – and it was my choice if I waited. I waited. 20 minutes later I rang again. I was advised and officer would be never coming out and that I should call 101 and report it. Different advice each time. I was angry and frustrated. Surely things hadn’t got this bad with providing a service to the public.

Calling 101 – It’s Up To You

I rang 101 when I got home. I explained the incident happened in Surbiton. “Would I like to speak to the Met?”. The Met told me to report it to my local police and they would link the case together. The Hertfordshire Police operator said it was “up to me”. I asked what was the best thing to do? It was up to me. I just wanted to report the incident. “We can’t link cases, we just pass them to the Met Police and they will call you”. It’s up to you! They took a statement and said they would forward it to the Met.

Met Police Call Back – “Potential Fraud”

My phone, just a standard smart phone now tells me about the calls coming in that are not in my address book. The Met Police number comes through as “Potential Fraud”. I didn’t take it.

No voice mail, but a (un)helpful text message saying call 101. It was after 5pm when I called back to provide an update and hopefully share the photo evidence. The IVR directed me to call another number, which was closed after 5pm!

Good Morning – 7:56 Call

This morning I got a call at 7:56am from a private number. It was the police. The officer was unable to tell me if this was the case reported at the incident, or if it was forwarded from Hertfordshire Police. How is that possible? I asked if I could send the photos from the incident (this was actually all I was hoping to when I reported it) – and they did provide an email. And all sent.

Why Bother? – and – You’re Just Wasting Their Time With This!

Reporting crime is important. As a victim of 7 crimes over a period of 18 months a few years ago, and in none of those occasions anybody was brought to justice you could ask why I bothered. Without reporting we don’t know what is actually happening. Funding for police is also going to be influenced by the number of crimes – resolved or otherwise. I have learnt to ignore the frustration and incompetence of the system – my objective with reporting crime is to get a crime reference number. I want it reported regardless of the time it takes me.

You might think this is a minor incident compared to other crimes. It’s not. The rider might be known for other crimes. If he felt it was OK to assault me with no consequence to me or my property you can be sure they don’t care about other people – including you and your family. I want to provide as much data and information as possible. The police can decide what to with it.

Why Is It So Broken? It Doesn’t Need To Be This Bad!

St Albans Police Station Disgrace – How can you not have police or frontline staff available in person in a busy town center? The service was disgusting and embarrassing. Poor training to the operators and indifference made me feel it was pointless. How has funding got so bad. The Council Office staff didn’t seem to care either. It was depressing.

FIX IT: People want to see someone, doing everything over the phone is not going to work for everyone. Providing a area that does not have staff and just a phone is not an acceptable solution. Training of telephone staff is also crucial to ensure people are cared for. If the police are going to provide a physical presence, they should at least provide people who are visible in it!

Systems Not Joined – How can crime reports not be connected together between forces? Is there any hope for “County Lines” to be resolved. People are dying from criminal behaviour because our police are simply unable to work together and share data. This is 2019 our police need to work together.

FIX IT: Standards for data exchange are needed. A single crime number that is available for all police forces is needed. A central system must be more cost effective than the dozens that are being used at the moment. Crime does differ from region to the region, but a centralised IT system must be implemented.

Smarter Smart Phones – It can’t be beyond the wit of people to contact the major service providers to get police number off spam and fraud lists. My phone activated a systems to unblock blocked call for 2 hours after I called 999. Why aren’t the people in the police able to reach out and fix simple things like this? Potential Fraud – it’s as ironic as it is ridiculous. This is just a really simple example of how much things are broken with our police. A small thing, but together they make for a broken system.

FIX IT: Someone please call Samsung and tell them to exclude the police numbers!

Digital Is Not The Utopia – The recorded voice on 101 said I could report things online or via chat. The digital advancements are really good, but it should be choice. People want to see front line services, and most importantly service need to be integrating properly – data capture is no enough. Developing remote and standalone solution does not fix the problem, it just creates more complexity and drives up costs, and gives leadership the illusion everything is ‘OK’ when it’s not.

FIX IT: Stop writing business cases that are wrong. Digital Transformation only reduces cost when ALL systems are integrated. Digital does not fix everything, and unless it’s done properly it doesn’t fix anything – just makes things worse.

It’s Funding (and leadership) – It is about funding. Police numbers have dropped over the last 10 years. I don’t know about the investment in technology, but I suspect it has gone in the same direction. Leadership, motivation and moral all affected. Lack of training. The system is broken. It needs money and better leadership.

FIX IT: Give the police more funding!

Humanity Saved Me

What I haven’t mentioned is that even after this experience I am feeling positive.

The people who came to help the woman.

The people who also helped the scooter rider get up and make he was OK before asking him to “stick around” was heart-warming.

The people that stepped forward after he struck my arm to protect me.

The two people who emailed me the photo of the number plate.

The people working the shop who let the woman sit down for a while.

The homeless man who tried to talk to the scooter man and calm him down.

Humanity is amazing, it’s the system that is broken.