Northamptonshire trials hand-held units

Northamptonshire Police is taking part in a national trial of new technology. The Police Standards Unit is funding the trial, named Project Roman, which will test the potential of a new palm pilot type PDA (Personal Digital Assistant) that is portable but has the same capabilities as a traditional ANPR unit.

Jan 25, 2007
By David Howell

Northamptonshire Police is taking part in a national trial of new technology. The Police Standards Unit is funding the trial, named Project Roman, which will test the potential of a new palm pilot type PDA (Personal Digital Assistant) that is portable but has the same capabilities as a traditional ANPR unit.

The force has been provided with 20 hand-held units that will be used by community teams, police officers and PCSOs to help in tackling crime while they are out on the beat.

Using the palm pilot, officers can check suspicious vehicles to see if they are stolen or of interest to police for any other reason. The device has a built-in camera that officers can simply point at a car to scan in and check the number plate. The number plate can also be input manually on a keyboard that appears on the screen.

Any vehicle that is found to be stolen, or that officers’ suspect may be used as pool cars by criminals, can then be dealt with quickly. The device can be used to help with other community problems, tracing the owners of vehicles regularly parking dangerously near schools for example, or persistently being driven anti-socially.

Inspector Sarah James, who is managing the trial in Northamptonshire, said that she thought the technology would have many useful applications for community officers: “ANPR is a proven technology that operational officers use every day to target priority crimes and criminals.

“This device has the potential to bring this technology out into the community, so that PCSOs in particular can quickly check vehicles that may be stolen and deal with them rapidly. Community officers are on foot patrol every day and this device will support them in dealing with known community problems and crime.”

People who are stopped by officers using the device can refuse to give their fingerprint or be photographed but if they agree, the data will only be used for the purposes of the trial and stored for just three months so that researchers can explore how this technology could be used in the future.

Any information collected for this purpose will later be destroyed. Police officers and PCSOs are required to give a form to people they stop – and this device can print them out too. The forms look like a bus ticket and they are printed on a small portable printer.

Inspector James concluded: “This is a way that PCSOs in particular can focus on priority crimes while not detracting from their community role or taking them away from their community beat. ANPR is always associated with static cameras but this technology could bring ANPR into the community, so that it is everywhere and the criminals can’t get away from it.

At the end of the trial, the results will be fed back to the Home Office.

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