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Tuesday, 12 March, 2002, 14:51 GMT
Bobbies on the byte
Police officers
Police officers will be armed with hand-held computers
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By BBC News Online's Jane Wakefield
The bobby on the beat could soon find that the truncheon is replaced by a handheld computer as the most important weapon in fighting crime.

New powers to stop and search suspects announced by the UK Home Secretary David Blunkett will create more paperwork for a police force already drowning in red tape.

To prevent this and allow the bobby on the beat to focus on more old-fashioned community policing the government is planning a modernisation programme that will arm PC Plod with a PC.

"You put it [information about suspects] in your handheld palmtop and it's automatically available for feeding in to the computer," Mr Blunkett told BBC Radio Four's Today programme.

"We've really got to start modernising every single action that is taken by the police."

E-policing on the beat

Wiltshire police force is already at the cutting-edge of e-policing and is planning a major overhaul of its infrastructure with the help of Microsoft and Compaq.

The need for this was obvious. Currently nearly a quarter of police time at Wiltshire is spent completing paperwork and it produces two million forms each year.

The force has estimated that reducing its paper burden by just 1% would save 200,000 and 16,000 hours of police time. To save that 1% at the moment it would have to deploy an extra seven officers.

Officers will be able to check remotely things that previously would mean they had to come back to the station

Chief Superintendent Gary Ogden
The standard form which currently has to be filled in by an officer every time a person is charged has been one of the first to go electronic.

"We were spending 10,000 on printing alone. This form has nine or 10 pages and can take half an hour to fill in. It drives officers insane," explained Chief Superintendent Gary Ogden.

Officers found that 85% of the forms were being rejected because they had been filled out incorrectly. Turning it electronic has reduced the rejection rate to nil.

Electronic notebook

Wiltshire is also working on joining up all the computer systems across the county and allowing other forces access to the information.

The West Country boys in blue will be among the first to scrap the old-fashioned notebook in favour of handheld computers and Mr Ogden is confident it will improve their working day.

"Officers will be able to check remotely things that previously would mean they had to come back to the station," he said.

Getting the infrastructure in place will be crucial though warned Mr Ogden and he is not convinced the bureaucracy created by the new stop and search powers can be solved by handhelds.

"The worry is that officers will be wandering around with these things.

"They will be able to tap in the name and details of the suspect but if the infrastructure isn't in place what will they do with it then?" he asked.

See also:

12 Mar 02 | UK Politics
Police attack stop and search plans
09 Jul 01 | Scotland
Force joins 'e-policing' scheme
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