Going into any West Midlands Police control room is much like walking onto the set of a futuristic science fiction epic. Operators wearing silver foil spacesuits float weightless in front of giant touchscreen displays, using their minds to control the flow of information pulsing from the infinitely-powerful quantum computer that’s buried twenty stories under the station. Data is beamed through brightly coloured fibre optic trunking whose neon glow illuminates the smooth, unbroken white surfaces of the walls. Robots dash about distributing protein injections to their human masters and silently plot the day that they will one day take over and reduce mankind to their slaves.
Okay, perhaps it’s not quite like this but even so, IT is a bit part of policing and makes a huge difference to how we’re able to deliver our service to the public. The systems we utilise range from expensive bits of software that have been tailor made to our specifications, right the way down to publicly available applications that everyone has access to and that can have an equally important contribution to make to our effectiveness.
Incidents are managed using a system called ‘OASIS‘ which is a little like an instant messenger just for emergency services. A ‘log’ of an incident is created on the system when a call is received from the public which is then transferred from our call centre at Bournville Lane over to the control room of the area in which the incident is happening. Resources can then be dispatched accordingly and a record kept on who’s where and how a job has been dealt with. This system is linked in with other emergency services so that we can all communicate with each other to co-ordinate our response.
Beyond OASIS, the control room have access to a variety of other systems that help officers out on the streets. An extensive mapping database is invaluable in finding hidden away addresses and the ability to look at past call outs to a premises helps give officers a heads up as to what they’re likely to encounter when they land. Officers can access the Police National Computer via their radios for checks and in addition to this can have people, vehicles and addresses run through the force’s own intelligence database to see what prior involvement there has been with the old bill.
Of course it’s not only the sophisticated, expensive systems that help us fight crime. We also use a variety of free programs too.
Many briefings are built around mapping services such as Google Maps and StreetView, the latter being fantastic for helping us survey an area without drawing attention to our intentions. Many times I’ve called up the mapping facility on my phone to help find addresses the Sat Nav struggles with and have even used it when asked directions by members of the public. As a police officer I’m obviously expected to know every single road in the country and whilst I do everything I can to keep people thinking this is the case, secretly I’ll be tapping away on my phone for answers.
Further to this, Google itself is a great tool to have at my fingertips and I’m forever referring to it to find contact numbers of organisations that I want to put in touch with victims of crime.
IT is there to support our policing instincts and to help us work in an more efficient manner. It hasn’t replaced the magnifying glass and deerstalker and unlikely ever will, it does though mean that we are in a stronger position to get the bad guys onto the right side of the bars. It means our bark is equal to our byte.