BlackBerrys Help the Cops in UK City

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South Yorkshire Police says it has increased the visibility of its officers patrolling the streets by adopting BlackBerry technology.

Artwork: Chip Taylor
By equipping officers with BlackBerrys, South Yorkshire Police has saved officers a significant amount of time traveling to and from the station between crime incidents, allowing them to be more visible to the public.

"Visibility is a business benefit. Most of the time, police office have to enter information themselves; so there's been an incident, you go to the crime, and then go back to the station, enter information, then go back out to another incident," said Sergeant Simon Davies, mobile data project manager at South Yorkshire Police.

"[But] if it [the BlackBerry] is used every day at work, a very conservative estimate is that officers can save half an hour of their work time [each day]," he said.

Other savings that South Yorkshire Police has started to notice is in mileage and fuel costs, as officers are required to make fewer journeys back to the station.

Earlier this week, Sir Philip Green's Efficiency Review into Whitehall's spending revealed that the government had a "very inefficient" mobile phone procurement contract, and accused the government of failing to "leverage scale". Meanwhile, according to a report in the Daily Telegraph, Sir Philip also found that thousands of public sector workers were given free BlackBerrys, despite having desk jobs.

In response to these accusations, however, Davies argued: "Our strategic view is that the smart thing would be to spend on the mobilisation you need because you have got fewer staff.

"The time saving is enormous -- you have to spend money to save money."

South Yorkshire Police, which is currently rolling out 3,000 BlackBerrys to its officers, said that the mobile devices provide access to certain police applications that help officers do their job on the move.

For instance, an application that the police force is currently trialling is an electronic version of stop and search forms, which were previously completed on paper.

"These [paper forms] would be filled out, then an administrator would type them into a database, and then they'd be audited -- it would be very bureaucratic. Now, the police officer enters the details into the database directly," said Davies.

Davies said that as part of the police force's mobilization strategy, around 90 policing processes needed to be mobilized, which included everything from simply making phone calls.

Now in the second year of a three-year BlackBerry technology rollout project, in addition to the basic e-mail and calendar applications, South Yorkshire Police has installed two main police applications onto the devices. Known as "identify a person" and "identify a vehicle," the applications, which went live in April, provide officers with access to local and national databases, linked together.

In addition to trialling the stop and search application, the force is currently trying out an intelligence report application, which provides information about other ongoing investigations. These applications are expected to go live in about two months.

Meanwhile, in terms of security, although Davies admitted that it was a challenge from a development and software point of view, he said that the devices are encrypted, lock themselves after a short period of time, and can be remotely wiped.

"We've got 24 hours robust ability to switch them off so that they become paperweights," he said.

"It's not so much a case of losing the device, but we do damage them - police dogs bite them, they've been run over...but we are not losing them."

This story, "BlackBerrys Help the Cops in UK City" was originally published by Computerworld UK.

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