A guide to police chatbots: Managing policing demand with AI

The role of digital tools in the world of law enforcement has undergone tremendous change. Chatbots are just one of many manifestations of digital transformation in policing. Learn more in this guide to police chatbots.

This post was updated in October 2021

Traditionally, dialling 101 or 999 is the best way to contact the police and other law enforcement agencies. But that’s quickly changing in light of rising policing demand, changing preferences for communication over the Internet and emerging technology platforms.

For example, with the public turning to messaging apps to reach organisations in both the public and private sectors, chatbots for policing offer an affordable alternative to managing demand. 

Powered by artificial intelligence (AI), police chatbots can engage community members with automated responses to frequently asked questions (FAQs) and help police departments focus on core service delivery.

The challenge with managing police demand

It is notoriously difficult to accurately and reliably record demand in policing. This, in turn, makes it difficult to justify funding. This is especially true when other Government departments, such as Health and Social Care, can accurately highlight missed A&E targets and waiting list times as clear reasons for requiring increased budgets.

The College of Policing produced an infographic showing reactive and proactive generic operational demand for a generic force. However, this model does not capture the demand levels from the public to the control rooms or the internal organisational demand on the officers and staff, such as meetings, supervisory and HR meetings, finance and administration requirements etc.

Demand for police services is multi-faceted, complicated and growing. The levels of demand growth, current police officer numbers (accepting the additional numbers promised by the government) and the condition of current technology all lead to a vicious circle of increased demand on fewer and ageing computer systems.

These legacy systems will inevitably fail when upgrades are delayed, or patches no longer hold things together, putting police access to critical data at risk.

Feeding the insatiable beast of Business As Usual (BAU) must not prevent new approaches that maximise multiple lifts in current and developing technology. It’s a scenario that Sir Thomas Winsor warned against in the 2018 State of Policing report:

“As long as the police persist in using 20th-century methods to try to cope with 21st-century technology and ways of life, they will continue to fall further and further behind, and the quality of justice will exponentially diminish. Justice delayed is justice denied; the denials of justice in the modern-day may be reaching unprecedented and alarming levels.”

Sir Thomas Winsor

The state of public demand for policing

The average person in the UK typically reaches the police by calling 999 in an emergency or 101 in a non-emergency situation.

We need to serve the public in the channels they’re increasingly using in their everyday lives.”

Research by BT shows that they record approximately 33 million 999 calls a year, or 93,000 calls every day.

  • Of those calls that reach emergency services, 49% were for the police.
  • Nearly 70% of 999 calls in the UK are now made using a mobile device.
  • According to Ofcom, 79% of UK adults are currently using a smartphone, up from 39% in 2012.
  • There are 30 million 101 calls every year in the UK.

BT also found that many people are unclear when to call 999 and non-emergency numbers like 101. For example, 35% of adults in Wales know that they can call 101 for non-emergency law enforcement issues, while 5% of adults said they don’t know when to call 999.

These findings clearly show that much still has to be done to inform the public about accessing emergency and non-emergency services. We believe there are two fundamental ways to make this happen.

  1. Provide the public with the information they need to know about police issues in an easy-to-digest format
  2. Deliver this information on the communication channels people use in their everyday lives, whether it’s social media platforms, apps, or websites

Messaging apps fall squarely into that category.

Over 35 million people in the UK use some type of messaging app every day, according to figures from Statista. Meanwhile, Ofcom reports that 73% of UK adult internet users used online text messaging services in 2020.

Channel shift is rightly on the agenda, and it makes absolute sense for your average police station to expand service delivery to messaging platforms.

But theory is one thing. Do you really want an increase in call volume? 

As much as the idea of wider access to services is the right goal, in practice, how can law enforcement agencies take on more calls when their human operators are already at capacity?

Demand for policing has never been higher, and some police forces have to make difficult decisions on the prioritisation of resources. This, in turn, has led to unanswered calls and an increasing number of customer service tasks for individual officers or staff.

For instance, the BBC reports that in September 2019, only 49% of calls to the Met Police’s Crime Management Service (CMS) were answered —  a dramatic drop from 80% in January that same year.

This is where AI, machine learning and natural language processing (NLP) come in.

AI-powered police chatbots to the rescue

Chatbots are well on their way to becoming the default customer support solution for government services. When implemented correctly, police chatbots offer a low-cost and high-impact solution that instantly improves public access to information. This frees up time for human operators in your Control Room (the front window for any police force) to focus on resolving more complex reports about crime, antisocial behaviour (ASB) and emergency assistance.

Chatbots are well on their way to becoming the default customer support solution for government services.

Chatbots and live chat add-ons can be deployed across a police force’s digital channels, from your website to social media, creating an omnichannel network for your live agents. Bots can process service requests in huge numbers, respond to FAQs around the clock, and help public services fulfil their duties at significantly lower costs.

At Futr, we can help your police force:

  • Direct residents to your critical service pages or emergency phone numbers
  • Help them find what they need on their own; and 
  • Interact with a human agent only when they want or need to.

Futr has been developing solutions with the police for over two years and delivers intelligent chatbot solutions to the wider public sector, enterprises and leading UK charities. Our customers have seen a 30% reduction in calls to support operations and up to 50% improvement in end-user satisfaction. 

Using chatbots for internal police communications

The other element of policing demand is inside the police structure itself.

Police officers and administrative staff also access information and complete tasks on their mobile devices. So if they want to ask a question or complete a simple administrative task, such as requesting annual leave, why should legacy technology constrain them? 

Chatbots can provide the internal tools to enable the police forces’ human resources (HR) departments to engage the workforce.

This enables officers and staff who are increasingly mobile to access all their operational and administrative information and functions without logging in to separate systems. The technology exists to provide real-time, multi-channel conversational access on current devices to systems and information required to perform their role.

Think of both the time and productivity improvements for officers and staff if they could access the correct information they were looking for — instantly and remotely.

What if they could:

  • Auto-fill incident forms through conversation chat on their mobile;
  • Claim an expense through MS Teams; and
  • Alter their shift pattern on WhatsApp or whatever messaging app they regularly use?

At Futr, we’ve helped several organisations deploy HR chatbots in their organisation. As a result of employees spending less time on admin, getting immediate responses to their HR and organisational queries and having a better connection with HQ, our customers have seen a 40% increase in employee engagement.

The chatbot technology that can enable this improved productivity is available now with no training abstractions.

Are police chatbots worth the time and investment?

But what about budget, integration and the complexity of rolling out chatbots?

The beauty of chatbots is that they can sit as a light overlay across your existing systems. For example, at Futr, we add a layer of conversational AI over your existing infrastructure to signpost to your services. These may include 101 calls for the public or access to internal systems for your employees — without the need for training.

This additional feature is a force multiplier in freeing up time for officers and staff to perform their core operational functions. The idea isn’t to replace your humans/live agents; instead, our goal is to eliminate the need to spend so much time on repetitive tasks and improve public access to your services.

This allows police forces to work on things that need their real attention, whether it’s improving policing visibility in communities, connecting residents with complex needs to human operators, or driving down administrative costs.

Follow the Futr blog for more insights on how our AI-powered platform is helping UK police forces improve their agility at scale. Get in touch with the Futr team to book a FREE demo and discuss our solutions for managing demand.

Customer stories

Futr is a VC backed tech start-up with the mission of delivering superpowers to support teams everywhere.  Futr’s superpowers are transforming the way organisations serve their audiences.

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