U.K. police communications go digital

A new digital radio system has been deployed by nearly all police forces in England, Scotland and Wales within the last 12 months in what is being touted as a major advance in law enforcement communications in the United Kingdom.

The Airwaves national digital radio system has achieved most of its target rollout goals and is now operational for more than 150,000 officers, according to a recent report from the Police Information Technology Organisation, which advises the UK government on law enforcement technologies. The digital radio replaces existing analog systems.

However, the Airwaves service has not yet been extended to the London Underground subway system and failed to meet a target date of December 2005 for doing so. Now the deployment is likely to be achieved by September, the report said.

The lack of adequate radio communications in the subway following the terrorist bombing attacks of July 2005 has been cited as problematic in several reports on the tragedy.

The organization reports that police officers may now use the Airwaves system to conduct standard checks on the Police National Computer system without needing to speak to a dispatcher. This reduces bottlenecks and increases access to the information, the report said.

Furthermore, police in some regions are using Airwaves to receive tailored briefing information. The briefings are usually conducted in the police stations at the start of a shift, but are often missed due to heavy workloads. Using Airwaves, officers can access the briefings on their intranet. "It takes 15 to 30 seconds to retrieve the information, which can include intelligence and images," the group's report said.

In other progress, U.K. police also recently launched a palm print identification system. In the first two months of palm searching, 1,350 identifications were made, the report said. The National Palm database now has 1.8 million entries.

In addition, the Police IT Organisation has been working on developing facial recognition and imaging standards to create the National Video Identification service, which will standardize video images to be used in criminal line-ups. Agreements for establishing the service are expected to be in place by April 2007.

Also in development are operational requirements for a Facial Image National Database.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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