Police Are Told to Send Text Messages Because It Is Too Expensive to Speak on Their Radios; Company That Owns Emergency Network Sees Prof Its Soar 26% to [Pounds Sterling]170 Million Police Federation Boss Says He Was Told Using Radios Can Cost [Pounds Sterling]2 a Second
Byline: Martin Delgado
POLICE officers are being ordered to send texts rather than speak on their radios because of the sums charged by the firm that owns the police communications network.
While chief constables face unprecedented cutbacks, the company that operates the system on which all the emergency services communicate has seen a massive rise in profits. Last year Airwave Solutions' profit margin outstripped even that of mobile-phone giant Vodafone.
Airwave's pre-tax profit was [pounds sterling]170million, a 26 per cent increase on the previous 12 months. It represents an eye-watering return of 45 per cent on the company's [pounds sterling]380 million turnover.
The company's charges are said to be putting a severe strain on police budgets. Officers in one rural force have been told that a penalty charge of up to [pounds sterling]2 a second is imposed as soon as the number of calls they make goes over a pre-arranged limit.
According to Dorset Police Federation chairman Clive Chamberlain, the punitive levy has led to a series of cost-cutting measures. 'Airwave is a very expensive sys-tem which was forced upon the police service by the Government,' he said.
'It was imperative to have a secure communications system. But it has come at a very high price. The advice we're being given from the top is to send texts as much as possible because it's going to cost a lot less money.
'There have been a series of briefings at which a senior officer has said it costs Dorset [pounds sterling]2 a second whenever we go over the 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.'
Dorset Police declined to confirm or deny the [pounds sterling]2-a-second figure. A spokesman said: 'The monthly charges include a fixed price for provision of the service, including a set volume of traffic, together with a variable charge that applies if the force exceeds its set monthly traffic volume.'
Airwave refused to discuss the details of its charging structure but claimed the [pounds sterling]2-a-second calculation was 'misleading and inaccurate'. However, a spokesman said: 'We do charge a usage tariff, but only for excess usage over agreed contracted levels.'
No national figures are collated for the cost of Airwave to the police service as a whole, according to the Home Office. But The Mail on Sunday has discovered that Dorset's bill last year was [pounds sterling]612,000, Greater Manchester's [pounds sterling]699,000 and North Wales's [pounds sterling]619,000.
The country's biggest force, the Metropolitan Police, and a number of others said they could not reveal how much they paid because the information was commercially sensitive.
Now, in an attempt to reduce the spiralling cost, officers from forces all over Britain are being trained how to text because it is cheaper.
It means police out on patrol or responding to an incident are under orders to keep in touch with their colleagues in the control room not by talking to them but by pressing buttons.
Last night former police commanders condemned the move and said it could compromise the safety of front-line officers and the public. The network is used by every police force, fire brigade and ambulance trust in the country.
Police officers have been given a set of 16 numerical codes that correspond to buttons on their handset. By inputting the correct combination of digits, they can report their location and whether they are issuing a warrant, making an arrest, on a meal break or returning to base. The information is automatically fed into the control room computer.
In an emergency, they can summon help in the normal way. But if they are involved in a routine procedure, they have been told to use the messaging facility instead.
An investigation by The Mail on Sunday found that forces across Britain have sent their staff on texting training courses. …