Combating mobile phone crime

Mobile computers coupled with the latest software are helping officers reduce mobile phone crime by eliminating human error and increasing the speed and efficiency of crime checks.

Jul 16, 2009
By Paul Jacques
NFRN national president Narinder Randhawa

Mobile computers coupled with the latest software are helping officers reduce mobile phone crime by eliminating human error and increasing the speed and efficiency of crime checks.

A new hi-tech crime-fighting system is playing an important role in helping police officers win the battle against mobile phone theft in the UK.

Radio Tactics Limited (RTL), a specialist in mobile phone forensics for law enforcement agencies, has teamed up with technology company Honeywell to create Apollo – a crime-detection system that uses hand-held computers and internally-developed specialist software.

Apollo enables police officers to check mobile phones on the spot to see if they have been stolen, lost or blocked. Using the mobile computers eliminates human error, increases speed and efficiency and increases the detection rate of mobile phone thefts.

The new system reads the international mobile equipment identity (IMEI) number in the back of a mobile phone. This unique identifier is logged on the National Mobile Phone Register (NMPR) whenever a new phone is produced. Apollo can check the scanned code with the NMPR database in a matter of seconds.

The system will also show whether the mobile phone user’s identity is known, so that officers can carry out further checks of the database if necessary.

“Previously, if police needed to check a mobile phone, they would have to read the 15 digit number and then radio it in. It would then have to be typed into a system manually, checked and the results sent back. This is a very long-winded process and it’s relatively easy for errors to creep in,” said Andy Gill, managing director at RTL.

“With this system, an officer on the beat can use a scanner to read the bar code and transmit it electronically for rapid checking against the NMPR database.”

The system uses Honeywell’s Dolphin 7600 mobile computer with GSM [global system for mobile communications].

Light, compact and robust, the hand-held computer is available with a Windows® Mobile 6 or Windows® CE 5.0 operating system. It’s ideal for officers on the beat, as it has GSM, GPRS [general packet radio service], EDGE [enhanced data GSM environment], Wi-Fi and Bluetooth wireless communications. Its in-built high-performance imager provides sophisticated bar code scanning, as well as image and signature capture capabilities.

The new system has been on trial with various police forces throughout the UK.

Some have used it on the beat, some in custody suites and some to re-check phones that had previously been collected as evidence of crime. Over a four-month period in 2008, over 3,000 checks were carried out by 283 different officers using 23 Apollo solutions.

“We conducted a month-long pilot in the custody suite at our Watford station where 90 phones were checked and over seven per cent were shown to be stolen,” said Detective Chief Inspector Paul Maghie of Hertfordshire Constabulary.

He added: “We’ve seen many benefits of using Apollo. Not only does it eliminate human error and increase speed and efficiency, but if a phone that shows up as stolen on the database is found in someone’s possession, it can give the officers on the street grounds to arrest them.”

The units have also been trialled by custody staff at West Midlands Police, who said that the Apollo was both quick and easy to use and had made a great contribution towards increasing the detection rate of mobile phone theft.

“The devices can also be used to check phones in second-hand shops and to educate buyers to register their new mobiles on the Immobilise website,” added Mr Gill. “This enables them to notify any theft or loss very quickly.

“As an added bonus, the built-in camera [on the Honeywell Dolphin 7600] effectively future-proofs the device. It will enable us to use our Apollo software for other applications in the future.

“These could include automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) checks, the identification of other types of stolen goods or chec

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