Feature

Police keep track of guns online

Police in Wales gain greater control with a web-based firearms management system, writes Ross Bentley.

Dyfed-Powys Police has upgraded its firearms management operation to a web-based system. By going online, police officers now have greater control over managing the granting, renewal, refusal and revocation of firearms certificates to members of the public.

The upgrade to Cedar's Web Firearms Information System is in line with the police force's aim to move all of its network applications to low-bandwidth web-based systems.

Dyfed-Powys is the largest police force area in Wales and England, covering more than half of Wales. From one end of its catchment area to the other is more than 160 miles. Of the area's 479,000 population, more than 27,000 people are registered owners of firearms.

With firearms essential for farming, veterinary, hunting and sporting activities, the Dyfed-Powys area requires extensive firearms management. About 14 officers are assigned with the task of ensuring that firearms owners comply with all the requirements necessary to obtain and renew a valid certificate. They also have to manage firearms dealers and clubs, as well as individuals requiring a temporary or visitors' permit.

Mark Hall, network manager at Dyfed-Powys Police, says, "Prior to implementing Cedar's Firearms Information System in 1997, we used a non-graphical user interface, host-based system from Unisys. While this did a job, it required a terminal of its own on each user's desk and had no flexibility in terms of generating certificates and reports."

With the Dyfed-Powys Police making the decision to move all its applications to web-based systems, the launch of Cedar's WebFIS was timely. "Implementing an internal intranet within our police force gives us much greater network efficiency because it requires much less bandwidth. With reduced bandwidth, applications run much faster and more efficiently," says Hall.

One of the major benefits the force expects to gain from using web-based technology is that applications will have to adhere to open standards and will therefore be better able to cope with future developments. "It is essential that all our software systems are able to grow in line with our requirements," Hall says.

Officers can enter data directly into WebFIS while on-site via a wireless GSM connection. The system ensures that each firearm on the official checklist is fully inspected. Only when all the criteria are fulfilled will a certificate be produced.

Once a certificate is issued, WebFIS automatically monitors when renewal is required. "The standard firearms certificate lasts for five years and WebFIS automatically generates a renewal reminder 60 days prior to the certificate running out. If no response is made, it will produce another reminder 12 days before. Once the renewal date has passed with no response we are in a situation where firearms may be held illegally and this is flagged by the system and checked immediately by an officer," says Hall.

"There are a number of reports on firearms ownership that are required by the government, particularly for the Home Office's Crimsec reports. For example, we may want to know the percentage of firearms owners in particular areas and what percentage of those do or do not renew their licenses. So far, every report we have needed we have been able to produce using WebFIS."

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This was first published in January 2003

 

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