Could chatbots be the key to speeding up the recruitment of 20,000 new officers?

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In September 2019, Boris Johnson directed the Home Office to boost the UK’s police force by an extra 20,000 staff over the next three years, backed by an additional £750m from the Treasury.

This is almost certainly going to present significant challenges for the forces’ recruiters, as it would for any organisation faced with the need for sudden expansion.

The role of a police officer is a complex and extremely demanding role, meaning the recruitment process is rigorous and lengthy due to the need for health and security checks which also brings with it the need to keep candidates engaged in order to avoid potentially successful recruits from losing interest.

Currently, candidates must go through the following steps before finding out if they have been successful:

Step 1: Candidates must complete an application form online – once the police receive this they will check the candidates eligibility against a set of criteria. The candidate usually has to wait a number of weeks to hear if they have been successful. They will usually be notified by email.

Step 2: Competency based questions – The police will send candidates competency questions to be marked by an external independent provider. If a candidate’s application is successful, they will be invited to attend an assessment centre.

Step 3: Assessment Centre – A number of weeks later, candidates will attend an assessment centre to undertake an interview, four interactive exercises, two written exercises and a verbal ability test.

Step 4: Psychometric assessment and force interview – After passing the assessment centre, candidates will face a competency-based interview and the completion of the psychometric assessments.

Step 5: Fitness test – Police officers must be able to run for a reasonable distance, so as part of their assessment they will be tested to ensure their fitness levels are high enough.

Step 6: Pre-employment checks – In the final stage, a candidate’s references will be checked, and they will undergo security, biometric, medical and eyesight checks and drug tests.

The length of time candidates can expect to wait from sending in an initial application form to acceptance is around 6 months. They would then usually have around a two month wait before the cohort induction.

As you may expect, during this time, candidates not only have many questions, but can also feel like they are being left in the dark for weeks a time – not knowing if they’ve been forgotten or dropped from the application process entirely.

One solution to not only speed up the application process, but also keep candidates in the loop would be to use chatbot technology. Chatbots could either sit on the forces’ website or on a dedicated recruitment app to help field initial queries from candidates – a task that would be difficult for a team of recruiters facing a sudden influx of calls or emails.

The bot could also illustrate the candidate journey, showing candidates how far along they are on the application process, when they can expect to hear back or progress with their application and what actions they must do in order to complete a current stage. They could also receive reminders about upcoming assessment centre dates, submit copies of documentation such as ID and exam certificates and get basic IT support such as resetting account passwords.

While there is no evidence of chatbots being used to help recruit officers in the UK, it has been used with great success in the US. Back in 2018, the Los Angles Police Department deployed ‘Officer Chip’ which was developed using the Microsoft Azure Bot framework and Cortana to deliver instant responses to police department recruits to help speed up the application process.

The LAPD often has around 7,000 applications in their system at any one time, so they faced hundreds of questions each week. To help address this, they built a chatbot, ‘Officer Chip’ with the aim of improving access to resources, reducing thousands of monthly calls on basic process questions that candidates make to the Personnel Department’s Public Safety Division; and give insights into what candidates wanted to know.

Officials started with an initial list of around 1,000 questions, on topics ranging from salary to drug tests to boot camp, but that number has more than doubled in the weeks after its launch. Questions for Officer Chip are visible on the back end and being able to review them has helped the bot become more intelligent and educated officials about what candidates need to know from them.

The bot was designed in as little as just three days, and as a result of launching the bot, the LAPD has said it has saved their administration staff an average of two hours every day answering frequently asked questions.

The potential for chatbot technology in policing is so compelling that at ANS, we’ve built a free, foundational open source chatbot to help the police to increase time to value. The chatbot, known as BaseBot, comes with download instructions and is ready and waiting to integrate with your business applications. You can customise it by adding your desired functionality tone and branding.

To find out how Basebot could help you to streamline your police recruiting programme, click here.