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February 27, 2012


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Speech recognition in policing: cutting costs, aiding efficiencies

In the coming months and years the police service will be under more pressure than ever before to reduce costs and improve results. Every corner of the public sector is currently facing cuts, with policing budgets being reduced by around 20% over the life of this Parliament.

At the same time, the demand on the police service to cut crime and handle large scale protests continues to rise.

Against this backdrop, like other public sector institutions the police service is under unprecedented pressure to cut waste and improve efficiencies by doing more with less.

However, this is quite an undertaking given the general consensus that the police service has been stymied by a growing administrative burden. Police officers spend around 50% of their time typing up notes from incidents. In many cases, reports are returned to the station workflow system two to three days after the initial incident occurred and contain errors and omissions.

The Policing in the 21st Century White Paper issued by the Home Office states that ‘police officers should be crime fighters not form fillers’: a sentiment echoed by Prime Minister David Cameron during the General Election campaign and certainly by the officers themselves.

Modernisation through technology

The desired outcome can only truly be achieved with modernisation through technology.

Implementing mobile speech recognition is a key part of this efficiency drive. By enabling police to verbally record what they see and capture information while out on the beat, officers can be freed-up to focus on fighting crime and dealing with the public’s emergency needs.

In general, people join the force to work among the community rather than behind a desk. However, that’s not to say that the police shouldn’t benefit from innovations in technology.

On the contrary, we expect our police service to have access to the most up-to-date information which can only be achieved through modern work practices.

Speech recognition is an example of a technology that has come of age and which has a tremendous reforming potential. It has developed in sophistication and accuracy in recent years. The latest developments enable natural, human-like dialogue so that users can make themselves understood, wherever they might be, while blocking out background noise.

As field officers, the police are increasingly reliant on sophisticated mobile devices, making them ideal candidates for trialling the latest developments in this technology. Rather than make copious notes only to return to the station to type detailed reports, they can just speak their reports into their mobile device and the information will be automatically sent to the station’s servers and archived according to strict rules and procedures.

Furthermore, by recording witness statements and observations immediately after an incident takes place, officers can be confident about the accuracy of their reports (which will only aid the transition from investigation to trial).

Specifics of voice recognition solutions

Voice recognition technology has advanced immeasurably in recent years. Fully automated dictation services can capture each officer’s natural voice language and can recognise commonly used terms in the local area, such as town/village names.

This personalisation means high -quality reporting and virtually error-free final documents. It assists police forces to meet disability regulations, helping officers with visual impairments and dyslexia quickly complete reports while also reducing the incidence of Repetitive Strain Injuries.

Users of this technology also have access to their police service’s contact database, either on the device and/or in their constabulary directory. A simple one-button command on a mobile device enables an officer to access relevant information or maps for directions.

Officers can even use speech recognition as a rapid foreign language translation service so that they can quickly communicate rudimentary phrases when dealing with members of the public who cannot speak English.

By capitalising on these advances, police officers can achieve their goals of spending more time in the field and less time filling in forms. Speech recognition effectively reduces the time it takes to complete, edit and approve reports by 80% and could save every police officer at least an hour of form filling every day.

The service could also allow a busy field officer to quickly look up information held on databases, such as the Police National Computer, to help with enquiries or to send e-mails and text messages to colleagues. Remote access to information would not only increase productivity, it would also equip officers with the intelligence they need to take immediate action.

In addition to front line activity, speech recognition technology can be used by the station to automate non-urgent incoming calls. At present, these non-emergency calls consume a substantial amount of time and expense each year, and yet as much as 50% of these incoming calls could be handled by a ‘natural language’ call automation system.

Extension to other parts of the public sector

While policing is an area ripe for modernisation, other parts of the public sector would also benefit from embracing speech recognition to improve productivity.

According to a study by the Centre for Economic and Business Research, the public sector as a whole could save GB pound 13 billion a year if it automated up to 60% of incoming calls.

As the drive for cost savings continues apace, expect other areas of the public sector to review how they could improve productivity through modernisation. For instance, Government departments with large volumes of in-bound calls, such as social services or local authorities, could reap the rewards.

Similarly, public sector bodies with lots of mobile workers could benefit, including health visitors, social workers and the emergency services.

A police officer’s job has never been easy with the need to be seen to serve the public while ensuring that all administrative duties are completed accurately and punctually. To be able to achieve this in the face of current austerity measures it’s clear something has to change.

It’s time for the public sector to catch-up and supersede the private sector in terms of sophistication and efficiency: a ‘leapfrog’ of this nature can only be achieved through investment in technology.

Brian Redpath is public sector director at Nuance

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