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Software used to monitor the phone conversations of staff working in call centres will be used to tap police calls with the public and hold force operators to performance targets.

Nice Systems, an Israeli intelligence software firm, is tendering with three British police forces for the sale of a system that will automatically pick out calls for closer inspection.

It will automatically detect heightened emotions in conversations between operators and the public by spotting fluctuations in their voice. The same software picks out keywords, is used by banks to spot fraudsters, and can identify callers by their voice biometrics.

Adam Smith, a marketing manager at Nice, said the software would pick out "problem and exceptional" conversations for further analysis against performance indicators.

"We've got three or four constabularies who are actively tendering for this type of technology, and all of them are looking at it," he said.

Yet there is a growing sense in the police service that performance indicators have become such a burden that it is suffering a slow but sure "death by KPI", according to an anonymous quote gathered by Peter Maddison, head of performance management for the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) and chief constable of Northamptonshire Police.

"Targets aren't guiding us, they're driving everything we do - you can't reduce everything to numbers," said another service member.

In March, an Audit Commission report found: "Centrally imposed targets and the associated performance monitoring and intervention are perceived to stifle innovation."

It dragged everyone down by dwelling on the "failures of the worst performers". An ODPM consultation last year found that too much scrutiny of individual performance fostered "compliance rather than innovation".

Smith said police operators would get used to the new regime because it gave them evidence when facing complaints: "Normally when we put this in place, [call centre staff] see it as big brother, but once it's been in for some time they see it as a backup."

He reckoned the software could reduce the administrative burden that performance monitoring puts on police sergeants, and help them produce communications for evidence.

As in call centres, the software will track how many calls police operators take, how quickly and how well. It would support the "citizen focus" of the force, said Smith. ®

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