Two years after the government started pumping millions into mobile technology for policing, forces are starting to develop their own stamp on the handheld IT they bought with the money.
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Police work is notorious for the amount of form-filling officers are required to do, and one of the aims was to cut the time they spend going in and out of the station.
Some forces are starting to go further by mining the data they have available in their local systems and building mobile applications to help officers tackle more advanced tasks while away from the station. They are starting to use the devices to identify suspects, plan their day and receive real-time information on incidents.
South Yorkshire Police has issued 700 smartphones to all frontline officers and police community support officers (PCSOs) in the region, and has built its own applications to help them save bureaucracy and time.
Simon Davies, project manager for mobile data, said the force had worked with Airpoint to develop an application to help officers identify people with previous convictions, or cars that were stolen or uninsured, at the roadside.
Each application integrates into a different system. The vehicle-checking application merges the local and national databases containing information on cars, giving officers everything they need to know.
The other application gathers a raft of information, including pictures, on disqualified drivers and people with other previous convictions. Davies says a lot of disqualified drivers give false details if they are stopped, and some get away with it because police have no way of disproving the information. This can lead to a huge amount of time and effort later on in the process, as police try to work out who is who. The new application makes it difficult for drivers to give a false identity, giving police access to full records of convictions.
"If you can't identify the person in front of you, the whole process is flawed," said Davies. "It costs us a lot of effort trying to find details of people who manage to give false details, because they are really difficult to track down."
South Yorkshire Police plans to develop the technology further, Davies adds. "We've got at least 96 ideas that front-line officers have said they'd like to see on the BlackBerrys." The next step is to allow stop-and-search forms to be filled in on the street, reducing the time it takes to process the forms from five weeks to a few seconds.
South Yorkshire is not the only force to create bespoke systems to use on BlackBerrys. Leicester Police wants to give its officers access to its main command and control system, which sends officers out on calls.
And Bedfordshire Police has built an application that allows officers to be briefed while on their shift, receiving new information on a case, including pictures of suspects. Another application gives officers a list of their daily tasks without them having to visit the station.