Police Scotland considers virtual notepads for call handlers

Police have issued an appeal after the incident on Sunday
Police have issued an appeal after the incident on Sunday
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Call handlers could be given virtual notepads called “Boogie Boards” instead of pen and paper notepads, which were criticised by the police inspectorate following the tragedy on the M9.

HM Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMICS) recommended that control-room advisers should not be permitted to use “scribble pads” to record incidents in order to input them into a computer later.

His report followed the tragedy on the M9 in which John Yuill and Lamara Bell lay undiscovered for three days despite a sighting of their car being noted down but not passed on. Mr Yuill died at the scene and Ms Bell died later in hospital.

The Liberal Democrats have questioned how this “worrying alternative” will “provide any improved function” and meet HMICS’s recommendation to input calls directly onto the computer.

HMICS found up to a quarter of incidents were recorded outwith the customer relationship manager (CRM) system and said call-handlers were already using other software applications such as Notepad or Word as virtual “scribble pads”.

In an update to the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) on its progress on meeting HMICS’s recommendations, Police Scotland said: “Following feedback, options paper will be submitted by CI Docherty re the purchase and use of ‘boogie boards’ which are in use within private industry service centres and prove to be successful in negating the requirement to use scribble pads.”

In November 2015, the HMICS independent assurance review of Police Scotland call handling stated: “Between February and September 2015, the proportion of incidents created outwith the CRM system ranged between 20.3% and 24.8%.

“HMICS observed service advisers across all sites using paper ‘scribble pads’ alongside their ICT systems.

“While Police Scotland encourages service advisers to record information from callers directly onto the CRM system, it permits the use of ‘scribble pads’ given the frequent need to quickly write down critical information from a caller, who may not always be coherent or structured in providing information.

“Staff in the east told us they often used these pads when ICT systems were slow. We were also aware of some staff using desktop software applications such as Notepad or Word as a ‘scribble pad’.”

It added: “Whilst HMICS understands the use of ‘scribble pads’ in such circumstances, we are concerned that the current ad hoc arrangements present additional risk in that any information noted by service advisers is not subject to any formal guidance, audit or control.

“HMICS views that with the exception of a system failure, service advisers should not be permitted to use ‘scribble pads’ to record incidents in order to input information later into the CRM or Command and Control systems.

“As previously highlighted, this could lead to calls not being properly recorded on any system and potentially left unactioned.”

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Boogie Board’s website states: “No other product in the world creates a natural pen on paper experience like Boogie Board eWriters.

“Sync provides a natural feel of writing like pen on paper, with instant access to your notes, drawings and brainstorms on your device or desktop.

“Sync device stores thousands of files internally and transfers them to your devices when they get in range.”

Chief Superintendent Alan Speirs, in charge of overseeing the C3 change programme, said: “We have received the HMICS recommendations and are in the process of working through them. Consideration will be given to all the recommendations.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokeswoman Alison McInnes said: “HMICS specifically said advisers should not be noting down details for inputting later; information from callers should be recorded directly onto the CRM system to avoid it being lost.

“The Chief Constable and SPA should be following that HMICS recommendation to the letter, not trying to circumvent it.

“These boards seem like a worrying alternative considering they will cost more but not provide any improved function.”

Writing on Twitter on September 25 2015, Scottish Police Federation general secretary Calum Steele said the tragedy on the M9 was “not systemic, not call centre, not indicative of anything other than lack of experience and still learning the job” of the officer who noted it down.

He said: “Service can’t say it but I will. Young officer with very little service received second and third hand info - was exceptionally busy and forgot to pass on. Noted details and was going to go back to follow up but simply forgot.”