As a police officer in North Yorkshire for 15 years with the majority of his service in CID, Andy Palmer has seen his fair share of technology come and go in Policing. After working in intelligence, crime prevention and as a family liaison, Andy was appointed the head of Firearms licensing for North Yorkshire Police in September 2019 as a temporary Inspector. His area of North Yorkshire has one of the largest numbers of certificate holders in the country (approximately 20000) spread across one of the biggest geographical areas, so operating securely and efficiently remains a constant challenge for his team. We caught up with Andy to discuss how he has adapted his operation during COVID-19 with the support of Microsoft Teams, and how he sees this continuing beyond the pandemic.
"Initially when I first heard about Teams last year, it was proposed as an effective way of tasking our Firearms Enquiry Officers (FEO’s). We have a small team of 11 spread across North Yorkshire which presents significant challenges due to its large geographical area. The hub of our department is the Firearms Licensing Office at Alverton court in Northallerton, where we use a paper-based system of distributing work to the FEOs. This means they are based in rural locations where a high number of certificate holders live. l've been exploring opportunities to change our records management system to a digital system, so I was interested to see if Teams could help. I have a blend of experience on my team but with the current processes having been in place for a number of years, I had to make sure that I was fully bought into the solution and understood the benefits before I could promote it to the team.
In terms of the early stages of implementation, it would be no exaggeration to say we were beset with hardware faults [that may be specific to North Yorkshire Police] which resulted in half the team having to drive to a central location to have devices rebuilt. There are a number of genuine reasons why this happened so communicating them quickly and concisely was very important. Of course, this made the culture change and implementation more difficult because it created a lack of trust and scepticism, delaying the adoption for some individuals. I think it is important highlight this point so other forces can consider this within their implementation.
It would also be fair to say that COVID-19 was the catalyst for our adoption of Teams. The lockdown restrictions meant that we had to cancel all our CPD days and I was concerned about the wellbeing of my colleagues who were forced to work remotely. With the government advice changing on a regular basis, I also needed a quick and effective way to communicate important messages. I feel that the video call function on Teams really helped because the team were able to get together on a call, see each other and have some friendly conversation. From my own personal point of view I liked being able to see everyone who, despite the situation, appeared upbeat. I used the channels in Teams to update everyone on the advice we were to give certificate holders during lockdown and changes to how they would work."
"One of the functions in teams that we have started to use is the Planner. We carry out a daily search of Niche, our force incident management system, and cross reference them with our certificate holders. This could flag anything from domestic violence incidents to neighbourhood disputes. We triage this information and look at the certificate holders history to assess whether a seizure or visit is required. Previously, hits which would require an FEO visit would result in a paper file being produced, which would then be sent to the FEO via the internal post. If the incident required an immediate seizure, then the file would be scanned and emailed to the FEO.
Now a task is created within Planner for every incident that requires a review, containing a summary of what has happened, the holder summary from the National Firearms Licensing Management System (NFLMS), and a link to SharePoint where all the historic information about that individual is stored. If I feel that a visit to a certificate holder is required, I can assign a task on Planner to the Team Leader, who will then assign it to one of the FEO’s, who will have all the information they need to progress it. Once the FEO has completed their visit, they will upload the report onto Teams which alerts me by email to say the task has been updated. I can also set reminder dates to check on their progress. As well as massively reducing the amount of paperwork generated, we are completing suitability reviews on the same day, rather than a minimum of two weeks it has previously taken. This process also has additional security benefits as everything is recorded digitally and securely."
"One thing I’ve noticed is that I’m sending fewer emails since I started using Teams which in my opinion can only be a good thing. Of course, its always nice to have a smaller inbox, but I believe that using Teams is a much more impactful way of sharing information. You can store documents in the files section and link them to messages and posts, you can make announcements which are more eye catching and ask people to give them the ‘thumbs up’ so you know they have been read. One big advantage of Teams is when we brought in a new member of staff, he immediately had access to the information, guides, and updates on Teams. The search facility means he can search for a topic rather than scrolling back through the history. Significantly this means that the organisational learning is not lost just because people move on.
The next logical step to that is making sure that our new starters gets the right training, however as he lives with a family member who has to be shielded from the COVID-19 virus, he was keen to work from home wherever possible. As a result, we are trialling the use of Teams to train him remotely. In addition to the video calling, we can share screens so the person training can demonstrate processes, and there is the function to give someone control of your computer which adds an extra layer of support.
I’ve also been able to support North Yorkshire Police with PC recruitment over the last few months, which has continued despite COVID-19. Using Teams to facilitate the interviews has really helped streamline the process. It means those on the interview panel aren’t having to travel across the region for the interview, we’re not having to book out rooms, and we save time having to sign people in and out of the building. While it is not the same as having someone sat in front of you, it does offer flexibility and the ability to keep recruiting which has really supported us in our drive to achieve the uplift in police officers."
"One of the pieces of work I’m currently undertaking is a review of the changes to processes we have implemented as a result of COVID-19, and which of these we would look to keep going forward. This feeds into a wider recovery plan for North Yorkshire Police. Being part of the trial, I still don’t have the full functionality in Teams, but nevertheless I can see opportunities for keeping in regular contact on Teams, sharing best practice and news as well as the use of task management via Planner. I have been reading about full functionality which will include Chat and Calls, I think this has the ability to improve how we communicate as a team and will complement the changes we have already made.
I would encourage colleagues to keep an open mind and give it a try. That’s what I did, and I have personally found the experience with Teams very positive. If I’m truthful, it was the ability to monitor the well-being of my team which drew me in but then the more I used Teams, the more I understood how it could be integrated into the day to day business. Teams has definitely enabled me to innovatively support my team during the COVID-19 outbreak, speed up processes and reduce paperwork. I hope it is something that can equally benefit my colleagues in other aspects of policing."