At the third beep..

There has been a lot of media interest in the last few days about a request under the Freedom of Information Act made to the Metropolitan Police. This established that between 2009/10 the force spent £18k on calls to the speaking clock and £121k to directory enquiries. £139k in total.

There has been condemnation. This a waste of money and is equivalent of funding the salary of three full time officers on £40k pa.

There has been support. The Met has 1000’s of officers and staff and when calculated equates to minuscule figures per officer/staff member.

To my mind there is absolutely zero need to ever have to ring the speaking clock. I tweeted last night;

My watch says 0145. My phone says 0145. My PC says 0145. Clock on the wall says 0146. #panic I’ll ring speaking clock to be sure. #police

We are surrounded by time sources. Watches, phones, computers, iPods, clocks in walls to name just a few. Officers also have personal radios and they too have the time on them. There is an article in the Guardian by @jamesrbuk The article ridicules the FOI request. I tend to agree with him. He does write;

Accurate time is occasionally important to police, when noting chronologies in reports or ahead of operations.

On the face of it this seems logical but surely if a team who need such accuracy are all synchronised at 11.00:00 and it’s actually 10.59:32 does it really matter? Perhaps to a pedantic defence.

“The prosecution claim Mr A stabbed Mr X at 5.30pm. We will argue this cannot be the case as the police records are all 15 seconds out”

A trivial example but it makes the point. In a very, very limited number of cases minute accuracy may be relevant. In 21 years I have never had such a need to be so accurate. The money is guaranteed to be wasted.

Directory enquiries is another matter. The telephone is an essential part of our business but this is no different to any other organisation. There are options open to us to get phone numbers. Actually taking one in the first place is a start but we have our own IT systems and the internet is very useful at tracking down phone numbers for businesses. People’s personal numbers are more tricky. BT have phone numbers online as do 192.com but they are cumbersome and with ex directory and increasing use of mobiles a direct hit is not as easy as you’d believe. Some sites require registration and most forces would frown on this.

There is often a need to use such a service. I don’t use it in custody because I have a computer in front of me and I don’t need to make that many calls where I don’t know the number. There will be occasions where using such services are essential. Officers on patrol needing a number may use their own telephony options to avoid getting the control room to do something for them. In some cases control rooms won’t do this for you anyway!

There is though the age old barrier to this and that’s laziness. I often hear colleagues who are in need of a number. I interject with how they may obtain it and I’ll be happy to assist. In their eagerness this advice is often ignored as they reach for the phone.

No. It’s ok mate I’ll ring directory enquiries

This is the attitude/behaviour that needs correcting and where a bill for this service can be reduced. I doubt very much it could ever be eliminated without a massive change to how as a country we manage phone numbers.

The FOI is quite petty but it does highlight an issue. It highlights an area of expenditure that could be considerably less. It also indicates quite clearly that if the Met are just writing off this sum, then how many other small inconsequential wasted sums does it take before, when added together, they become a considerable matter indeed?

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