I will follow you into the dark…

A sophisticated system of satellites means even distant corners of the planet, like Aldridge, are covered by GPS.

The other week a very interesting job came in over the radio. There’d been a report of a potential robbery that had just happened in the town centre during which someone had their phone stolen. As we do for any robbery all response units converged on the area and began searching for the offenders.

What was remarkable was that as we approached the town centre with our sirens blaring and blue lights flashing, the control room began to broadcast updates on the location of the phone. At first I thought they might be watching the offenders on CCTV but then it became apparent what was actually happening – the victim had installed on his phone a tracking application and so was able to relay the phone’s position to the 999 operator*.

This meant that rather than having a large search area that expanded exponentially with each minute that went past, we could focus on where the phone was likely to be and so greatly increase the chances of both recovering it and arresting the offenders.

Whilst in this case the phone lost signal just before officers converged on its location, the usefulness of the tracker showed what a benefit such applications can be to helping defeat the bad guys.

This applies not only in catching them immediately after an incident, but also to recovering property at a later point. Pinpointing your device’s location, for example, may be enough for us to be able to apply for a search warrant and go bashing in doors with our big red key.

If you own a phone made by a popular type of fruit I’d recommend installing the Find My iPhone app which allows you to both locate, message and even remotely wipe a stolen device. Even without the app installed, you can still log into iCloud to display your phone’s location remotely.

Other similar services are available for BlackBerry, Android and Windows phones allowing users to instantly locate their phones and often are free to use.

Alongside installing and learning how to use the location services on offer, as I’ve written about before the first thing you should do when you come into possession of any new toy – be it a twig, a fancy phone or a nice watch – is to register it for free on Immobilise. Record serial numbers, take photos and then upload it to the site so that we can identify and return property when it’s recovered.

New technology provides us with new ways to help fight crime and can often help in unexpected ways. Not too long ago a man in Sussex was able to provide officers with a picture of a potential suspect after photos taken on his stolen iPad were automatically sent to him following the theft.

At the same time, prevention is better than cure and so whilst we’re assisted by GPS satellites whizzing overhead and other similarly high-tech stuff, it’s always best keep your possessions out of sight and not let yourself be a victim in the first place.

* Actually in this example the chain of communication was even more complicated – as the victim obviously didn’t have a phone himself, he had to contact his family via a telephone box who accessed the location of his stolen mobile remotely from their computer. As they lived in another county they spoke to their local police who in turn sent the information to our control room who in turn sent it to us. It was West Midlands Police meets 24!

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