The BBC have posted this article about efforts for the police to improve ‘Customer service’. Based on no more than my own anecdotal experience I reckon the police have improved over the last five years. But not enough. Despite the new ‘customer focus’ efforts they still seem unable to score an open goal. Allow me to explain…
About five years ago someone broke into my car nicking the stereo and a credit card. I knew nothing about it ‘till I got one of those security phone calls from my bank asking if I was in a certain shop trying to buy x amount of goods. I told them I wasn’t and they stopped the card. The thief was turned away at the till in a minor victory for computerised fraud detection. I knew that if someone had the card they must have been in my car and rushed to the garage to find the damage.
I rang the police to report it. They saw no reason to send anyone to me but did say that if I could be bothered to drive the car myself to the police station they would dust it for prints. I told them about the credit card “We’re less bothered about credit card fraud than we are about breaking into the vehicle – the credit card is a matter for the banks”. I protested that the two were directly connected – the card was stolen from the car, and suggested that given the bloke had been standing in the shop for some time whilst the card was refused maybe someone in the shop would remember him. “We might send someone around” the officer told me.
A couple of days later, having heard nothing, I rang the shop myself and spoke to the manager. No policeman had been round. However, he did say that he remembered the chap well. “Everything about him had been ‘dodgy’”– he had been so struck by the thief’s behaviour waiting for card authorisation he had even saved and printed CCTV images of him!
Triumphant – I went round to the shop, picked up the 4×4 clear mugshot – took it to the police station and declared ‘There’s your thief!’. I don’t know what reaction I was expecting: at best maybe them to bang an alarm bell which instantly gathered the crack anti-theft squad who knew all the villains on the patch to ID the photo then charge off on an instant ‘knock’; at worst at least some begrudged gratitude for doing some of their job for them. What I actually got was a weary sigh and that “I probably shouldn’t have picked up the photo, with data protection and that” and an “I’ll pass it on to the investigating officer but just because he had your card doesn’t make him the person who broke into your car. It’s circumstantial”. I never heard another thing.
A full photo, fingerprints, a witness. None of it of interest. They weren’t bothered about me, they weren’t bothered about solving the crime – they were just bothered about completing the paperwork and logging the crime for their metrics. The whole episode was a depressing experience.
Fast forwards to 2010. I had been away for the weekend can came home to find a letter from an electrical store – it was a receipt for about £2k worth of computers, all bought on my card but with a different delivery name and address – someone, somewhere I had never heard of in Nottingham. Thankfully, the electronics store had a policy that whenever someone ordered something for a different delivery address they also send a copy of the receipt to the billing address. A quick phone call to the bank and it turns out this joker had run up £6k in total elsewhere over the weekend. Card stopped. Another phone call to police.
This time, the police where surprisingly polite and interested. They said they could send an officer over right then, but with it being 10:30 at night would I rather wait until morning? If so what time? Oh, we’ll send a text message to confirm the appointment. Great.
Sure enough at bang on the agreed time the next day a uniformed officer turned up. Polite, courteous and reassuring. She took notes, gave me advice about the National Fraud Reporting Centre and took the name and delivery address of the fraudster. So far, so good – I would say I was very impressed.
“What happens now?”, I asked. “Well, I pass these details on to our control room, who will probably pass them onto the intelligence lot, who may then get in touch with Nottingham – they’ll wait for a report from the bank who will put together a full pack on when the card was used – it is actually the bank that is the victim here, not you. On the basis of that info they’ll decide if there is anyway to proceed. It’ll be weeks”.
My heart sank. They have a name and delivery address – the goods are due to be delivered that day. A quick phone call to Nottingham police, who could in turn ring the courier company to find out when the goods would be delivered, the police could then wait outside, watch the goods signed for, and then grab their fraudster. Another toe-rag who is probably a one man crime wave off the streets. Job done. You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to sort this stuff out. It is common sense.
Sadly though, common sense does not trump ‘process’.
For all the obvious improvement in ‘customer service’ and in making me, the victim, feel like I am being taken seriously, it is apparent that everything is about ‘process’ and not about ‘outcome’. I am sure that this process has been carefully designed, and will have been executed as intended and if audited they’ll get a great big tick and be rewarded for doing an ‘excellent job’.
But if the outcome isn’t ‘the thief is caught’, then really what is the point of the process?
Both these cases were relative open goals for the police. They failed to score either. Yet the paper shuffling and form filling have created a taxpayer funded industry to give the illusion of action and crime fighting. I’d honestly sacrifice some of the touchy feely ‘customer service’ improvements just for the sense that someone was empowered to use their common sense and circumvent the ‘process’ to get the bad guys quickly when any obvious opportunity arose. Such agility of thinking it seems is not allowed. We will all remain more vulnerable until it is.