A PAPERWORK overload means police are deskbound when they would rather be on the frontline of crime, according to a north politician who joined them on an Inverness night patrol.
MSP Edward Mountain will spell out the issues he witnessed to Justice Secretary Michael Matheson in the hope of simplifying convoluted computer systems.
The Conservative politician spent three hours with a Friday night unit last weekend, covering a wide sweep of the city in an unmarked vehicle.
He was grateful for the experience – his first in a police car – and impressed with the three constables’ professionalism in responding to a range of alcohol and drug-fuelled incidents.
The shift began with a stop-and-search in Merkinch, quickly followed by a blue-light call to arrest a known suspect and an emergency call to attend a drunk who had collapsed in a city street and split his head open.
The casualty ended up being taken to Raigmore Hospital for treatment. Their identity and condition were not revealed.Mr Mountain found the time officers spend processing data at the end of their shift disturbing.
"I’ll be writing to the Justice Secretary to ask how we can speed up the process to allow officers to spend more time on the street, which is where they want to be and where they do the most good," he said.
"What I’d like to see is officers spending more time on the street and less time filling in computer forms because computers don’t talk to each other.
"They’re filling in five separate forms for an incident – it’s a failing of the IT system.
"If the shift is busy, they could spend an hour or more completing all the different forms."
He asked officers what would ease their burden and was told: "a better IT platform."
Mr Mountain said: "The police computer system was meant to be delivering this, but obviously it hasn’t. It can’t be beyond the wit of Man to simplify things."
He suggested one idea of a search-match to cross-reference suspects known to the force, to help speed up the process.
Inspector James Rice, who oversees the city centre community beats team, said: "If you ask any officer, it’s always the part of the job that they least enjoy.
"But it’s necessary to ensure fairness and legality in all that we do and paperwork makes you accountable, whether that’s in a report to the fiscal service or in a report to your own supervisor.
"With Police Scotland – eight forces becoming one – there’s some overlap and some independent systems and we’re slowly working towards this nirvana, where we have the perfect systems and it simplifies it.
"It’s an ongoing process to try and eliminate that. You understand the necessity of if but any reduction would be more than welcome."
Assistant Chief Constable Malcolm Graham added: "Both short and longer terms plans are being developed rapidly as a direct result of feedback from our officers.
"These recognise the importance of improving technology and the use of ICT to enable officers to carry out their roles efficiently and effectively.
"A key strand of the work we’re now doing is to address how we streamline processes and provide alternative technology and solutions to free up time for officers working within our communities."