Page last updated at 12:16 GMT, Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Time-saving tech for Derby police

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PC Mudasar Ali runs through the new technology in use in Derby

Gone are the days of spending two hours writing a police statement.

In Derbyshire, officers are swapping their notebooks and pens for a small memory card, so that hours of film can be gathered as evidence on something as small as a fingerprint.

It is the latest way to get the best out of technology that's already been tried and tested.

Headcams have been worn by police officers in other parts of the country for quite a while, but here in Derby city centre they're being used alongside a new computer system which means officers can store and retrieve the footage quickly and easily.

In the time it takes to burn the evidence onto a DVD, an officer could be back out onto the street.

When you walk into the operations room at St Mary's Wharf Police Station the state of the art technology looks more like a supermarket check out.

There are two rows of computer monitors with barcode scanners attached, but instead of holding information on this week's best buys, it has details of this month's worst offenders - they're drunk, they're causing a disturbance or have even punched a police officer.

You can't put price on justice
Chief Inspector Graham McLaughlin

PC Mudasar Ali is starting his shift. He scans his ID card onto the computer system to create a record of which camera and memory card he's using.

He then straps a camera around his head and places his helmet on top. He hooks a second camera onto his fluorescent utility jacket and explains that unlike CCTV, he can get close-ups and clear audio of everything that's going on around him.

"Everything I see and hear is recorded onto this memory card and we can look at it back at base," he says.

It is a simple system; when PC Ali returns, he'll scan the ID card again, and download all the footage.

"A picture paints a thousand words," explains Chief Inspector Graham McLaughlin.

"Officers can now record emotions and dramatic situations, to present the very best evidence to the Crown Prosecution Service to secure convictions."

Behaviour change

Using film as part of a police statement not only reduces their workload by 30%, but also the force says it is cheaper because some of the typical cases they deal with don't reach court anymore.

Officers have shown footage to people who were under the influence of alcohol at the time they filmed the incident.

Video still from Derby police
The approach could save time on the streets and in courtrooms

In the cold light of day, it has been harder for them to dispute the evidence they see in front of them. As a result, they admit the crime.

Its also been useful to record certain types of crime, like domestic violence.

Officers say that victims often feel compelled to change their statement a few days after it happened, but when the injuries are caught on camera straight away, its more likely that the case will reach court.

Not everyone has welcomed this new way of gathering evidence. Some footage downloaded at Derbyshire Police HQ today shows a man shouting at an officer and telling him to "rewind the tape".

PC Sarah Witham is one of the other 75 officers who have been involved in the project.

"We often tell them that we're filming and give them an advance warning," she says, "and we notice that their behaviour does change a little bit because they know that it could be used as evidence."

It cost 130,000 to install the computer system at Derbyshire Police and each piece of body-worn video equipment costs around 1,000.

However, Chief Inspector Graham McLaughlin says that "you can't put price on justice." He is writing a report for the Home Office on how the trial has gone.

If it is deemed a success, the government may consider rolling out the new technology across other forces in England and Wales.

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Fiona Trott reports on footage captured by the police headcam



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