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Yorkshire Bobbies get BlackBerrys

Police in West Yorkshire are using BlackBerrys to run real-time checks on suspects they stop on the street or in vehicles — and the county's head of IT claims it is dramatically improving police performance in the area.

Paul Friday, head of information systems at West Yorkshire Police, claims the project has also already delivered an £8.8m return on investment.

The 2,300 officers currently using the devices are able to check in with the Police National Computer via an application called StreetWYSE. Officers can enter a name and get returned searches for all known offenders with that name, as well as "sounds like" matches, ordered by gender and age. The return pages also include pictures.

Friday told silicon.com the system provides vital support to officers in the field and is dramatically cutting down time take to deal with suspects. Restoring some optimism in society, he added that it also helps eliminate false positives, enabling police to let people go on their way.

Friday said: "A lot of the people we deal with are known to us. And if you are wanted and known to us then this system means the officer has far more information available to them when they most need it."

The system will also flag information that lets officers judge the best way to handle a situation, Friday added: "If the suspect is known to be violent or known to abscond then the officers can see that."

Friday said often officers working in twos will have one who drops back and checks the records with his BlackBerry while the other deals with the suspect, if there is anything that should be raised the officer can then show his colleague on screen.

Friday added: "Previously this information will have come over the radio, which the suspect can also hear. You can imagine what happens if the suspect hears they are wanted."

Of course Friday admits "in our line of work some people do lie to us" and the system isn't capable of proving somebody isn't who they say they are. However Friday is confident enough in the benefits it offers — coupled with the fact officers do have power of arrest if they suspect false details have been given — to plan a further rollout to around 1,200 more officers this year.

Friday said the £8.8m return on investment is a non-cashable saving based on the elimination of inefficiencies from the system. However, he believes the long-term savings will be far greater as officer satisfaction increases in line with greater efficiency, delivering other non-cashable benefits such as staff retention.

Friday said officers are taking to the new technology enthusiastically, with a whole day of training dedicated to getting new recruits up to speed with their handhelds.

He said: "Of all the things our officers have to take out with them, the BlackBerry is the one they least mind carrying."

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