Excellence in innovation

Pioneering technology used by Hertfordshire Constabulary to transform Neighbourhood Watch in the county has won an e-Government national award for ‘excellence in innovation in strategy at a local level’.

Feb 5, 2009
By Paul Jacques

Pioneering technology used by Hertfordshire Constabulary to transform Neighbourhood Watch in the county has won an e-Government national award for ‘excellence in innovation in strategy at a local level’.

Hertfordshire Constabulary’s innovative Online Watch Link (OWL) system has transformed Neighbourhood Watch across the county by allowing the police and watch coordinators – street, area, district or forcewide – to manage communication with thousands of committed volunteers and residents.

It has allowed the constabulary to keep in touch with members of the public and businesses with crime prevention messages, witness appeals and advice.

The brainchild of local Neighbourhood Watch coordinator Gary Fenton – who happened to be a web developer and director of technical and creative services company Direct Path Solutions – OWL was jointly funded by Hertfordshire Constabulary and Hertfordshire Police Authority.

The Internet-based tool is an easy to-use communication system that supports Neighbourhood Watch, School Watch, Shop Watch and dozens of other community safety schemes. The simple administrative and communications tools for both communities and the police allow everyone to fully participate in setting up and running group-based schemes which has helped thousands of ward, area and street coordinators send police messages to their members via phone, text messaging, fax and email.

It went live across Hertfordshire in 2007 and in the first six months of operation more than 50,000 messages and alerts were sent by the police and Neighbourhood Watch volunteers.

Apart from a considerable increase in local communication from the police, the key quantifiable factor has been the increasing number of watch schemes in Hertfordshire, which shot up from 5,000 to 6,800 since OWL’s launch, despite the national trend decreasing by 40 per cent since 2000 according to the British Crime Survey.

Creator Mr Fenton explained: “Hertfordshire has proved the way forward by approaching Neighbourhood Watch from a new angle that provides coordinators with tools to manage their own watch schemes via the Internet. Hertfordshire Constabulary had the foresight to develop OWL with us and thanks to everyone’s hard work, including an astonishing 7,000 ward, area and street coordinators, Hertfordshire now has a thriving network of watches.”

OWL does not require users to be technically-minded, nor does it place a technology burden on a police force. Access is through the Internet with any version of Windows, Mac or Linux. There are no plug-ins or special software to download or install, and Neighbourhood Watch members and the police use OWL in web browsers such as Internet Explorer, Firefox, Opera or Safari.

Hertfordshire Police Authority member Brenda Griffiths said: “The system was developed by Neighbourhood Watch for Neighbourhood Watch – and this was about giving the schemes what they wanted and needed. Now thousands of people around the county can benefit. Hertfordshire Police Authority provided the drive and made it possible for the constabulary to take on this project and run with it. This was a real team effort.”

Chief Constable Frank Whiteley commented: “OWL has revolutionised Neighbourhood Watch, allowing us to send out key messages to the communities in Hertfordshire, helping the county to remain a safe place to live and work.

“It has delivered on its promise to dramatically improve communication between the police and Neighbourhood Watch by providing intuitive and proficient tools.”

OWL is also being trialled by police in Flintshire and, from November, the West Midlands.

The e-Government National Awards:

OWL was one of the 11 winners following 588 nationwide nominations in the e-Government National Awards.

The award for ‘innovation in strategy at a local level’ was presented by John Suffolk, the Government’s chief information officer.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown praised the winners at the awards presentation last mo

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