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O2 prices force police to rethink vocab

Police officers must cut down on long words when using the emergency services network or switch to normal mobile phones
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

Police officers are to be given a CD teaching them to communicate clearly and concisely with one another, amid rising concerns over the cost of communications.

Emergency services across the UK use a radio system called Airwave, which is based on the Tetra standard and supplied by O2. According to a recent story in the Northampton Chronicle and Echo, high charges levied by the mobile operator have forced the police service to ask officers to use shorter words and keep conversations brief.

The Northhampton Chronicle and Echo quoted deputy chief constable Davina Logan as saying O2 had the emergency services "over a barrel". It claimed the Police Information Technology Organisation (PITO) has been forced to produce a CD called "Airwave Speak" to reform officers' conversational habits. It also suggested that a survey of police officers had found they use more than 100 different ways of saying "yes".

PITO has confirmed to ZDNet UK that the CD is being produced and will be rolled out across forces nationwide towards the middle of the year, once a new "standard for all the police forces to be speaking in the same phraseology" is approved by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO). Three forces have already trialled the new training material.

"What happened in the past is, before you had mobile phones, you did have a standard, but people have started colloquialising quite a lot — in each force each of the officers would speak a different language," a PITO spokesperson explained on Tuesday, adding that "to improve efficiency, we developed this language to be able to communicate across borders".

Asked for an example, the spokesperson suggested the county border between Essex and Hertfordshire.

The PITO spokesperson denied that the move was purely to make conversations shorter, but also "to increase officer safety", adding that it was not "led by financial gains".

An O2 spokesperson also claimed that Airwave's pricing format for police forces was "totally different" to that for O2's consumer offerings, and was not based on per-minute charging. Assistant chief constable Derek Talbot, from Northamptonshire Police, explained on Tuesday that the charges were based on "peak hour usage" because O2 "cannot monitor [Tetra mast usage] constantly".

"If we got more disciplined around talktime, not only would we reduce costs, but also improve quality," said Talbot, who also revealed that police officers sometimes have to use normal mobile phones as a result of cost restrictions: "Airwave has telephony but, given the cost of mobile phone telephony versus Airwave telephony, you may want to use mobile phones for extended conversations."

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