Walky-talky too costly! British cops asked to send SMS

Monday, November 15, 2010

LONDON - As a cost-cutting measure, police officers in Britain are being asked to send text messages and avoid speaking on radio to contact each other on duty.

The tariff charged by Airwave Solutions’, which operates the police communication network, is said to be putting a severe strain on police budgets. Officers from forces all over Britain are being trained how to text because it is cheaper.

It means police out on patrol or responding to an incident are under orders to keep in touch with their colleagues in the control room not by talking to them but by pressing buttons, according to the Daily Mail.

Officers at one rural unit have also been told that a penalty charge of up to 2 pound per second is imposed if they exceed the limited number of calls.

“It was imperative to have a secure communications system. But it has come at a very high price. The advice we’re being given from the top is to send texts as much as possible because,” Dorset Police Federation chairman Clive Chamberlain was quoted as saying.

“There have been a series of briefings at which a senior officer has said it costs Dorset two pound a second whenever we go over the limit. We are being told that texting more has the potential to save tens of thousands of pounds.”

Airwave, however, said the two-pound-a-second calculation was “misleading and inaccurate”. A company spokesman said: “We do charge a usage tariff, but only for excess usage over agreed contracted levels.”

Officers have been given a set of 16 numerical codes that correspond to buttons on their handset. By pressing the correct combination of digits, they can report their location and whether they are issuing a warrant, making an arrest, on a meal break or returning to base. The information is automatically fed into the control room computer.

In case of an emergency, they can summon help in the normal way. But if they are involved in a routine procedure, they have been told to use the messaging facility, the report said.

Forces across Britain have sent their staff on texting training courses. They include North Wales, Nottinghamshire, Cheshire, North Yorkshire, Kent, Hertfordshire, Durham, Hampshire, Norfolk, Dorset and Dyfed-Powys.

Airwave Solutions, currently owned by Australian investment bank Macquarie, has been providing its service since 2000 after the firm’s previous owner BT won a 2.5-billion-pound government contract to provide a secure digital radio service for the emergency services to replace the old analogue network.

A Home Office spokesman said: “We give police forces a budget. It is up to them how they spend it.”

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