Thursday, January 19, 2012

Outrage by the numbers

You may have noted a bit of outrage regarding the revelation that London's Metropolitan Police spent £35,000 on calls to the 'speaking clock' (a telephone service to provide callers with the precise time) in the last two years.

(Well, you may have noticed it if you read the Daily Mail, and I know that not all of you indulge in that particular pleasure.)

Not that I always necessarily feel like standing up for the boys in blue, but I thought I would point out James Ball's interesting article at the Guardian today, where he takes a closer look at this expense, finding:

So what does the spend on the speaking clock represent? The force spent £16,879 on calls to the service in 2010/11. At 31p per call, that's just under 54,500 calls over the year.

That works out as 1.5 calls to the speaking clock for each officer, or in other words represents each officer in the force using the service just once or twice each year.

Is that unreasonable? Accurate time is occasionally important to police, when noting chronologies in reports or ahead of operations.

It's not hard to imagine police officers needing to sync their watches (or phones) on particular operations on occasion, or perhaps occasionally mistrusting their computer's clock when trying to timestamp a report.

The rest is worth reading as well.

I would admit to finding it a bit odd that a such a clunky seeming technology as the speaking clock would still be in semi-regular usage, and for this reason I probably would have smirked as well on first seeing this kind of headline.

Still, as Ball points out, the Met has a budget of four billion pounds a year, and with an enormous staff, small costs per officer add up quickly.

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