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Police ordered to text as radio call charges reach £2 per second

The secure communications network the police use is so costly that some forces are having to rely on text messaging instead of speaking on their radios.

Imagine the scene. A brave copper is chasing down a rural high street after a dastardly criminal, who's jipped a bag from a little old lady.

Because he's eaten a few too many jam doughnuts, PC Plod realises he's not going to keep up -- he needs backup, so he thumbs his radio mic. Then he pauses, thinks for a second, grabs his phone from his utility belt and sends a text message instead.

This is the future, according to the Daily Mail (who else?). Cash-strapped police forces across the UK are increasingly texting instead of using their radios, because they need to reduce swingeing costs from their secure communications system, which is provided by a company called Airwave Solutions. A penalty charge of up to £2 per second (!) is reportedly incurred when officers go over a pre-arranged call limit.

"We are being told that texting more has the potential to save tens of thousands of pounds because it costs only 4p to send 1,000 texts," Clive Chamberlain, chairman of Dorset Police Federation, told the Mail.

The system allows police officers to punch in a code when they want to do things on their radio, such as report their location, with the info fed into a computer. They can summon help with a call if it's an emergency, but Dorset detectives are instructed to use messaging if it's less serious.

Police have even been sent on text training courses so they can put this into action. This was confirmed by a Nottinghamshire police spokesman, who said, "We are doing a series of briefings for officers around the use of status messaging as opposed to talk time. It frees up air time for ongoing incidents and reduces costs."

The Mail quotes a few officers who are predictably vexed about the situation. They say texting could distract officers, and there's always a chance the message won't be picked up.

In a statement, Airwave tried to justify the expense, saying, "Not all police forces are realising the full benefits of the Airwave service. Officers and control-room staff often use only the basic radio functions. By using it to the full extent, they can enjoy a raft of additional efficiency benefits."

Granted, you don't need to call all the time, but using the police network is a little different to trying to save your pocketmoney on a Vodafone tariff.

Image credit: CC Steve Punter/ Flickr