New NPIA pilot project helps force bring offender to justice

Thursday, 15 September, 2011

An NPIA pilot project to make the criminal justice process more efficient has secured its first conviction of an offender.

This is an early success for the Agency's Digital Evidence Pilot which incorporates electronic police notebooks and witness statements. The aim of the pilot is to test the benefits of police officers on the beat using laptops and Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) to record information rather than pen and paper.

Although at an early stage the pilot, which ends in November, is bringing benefits to policing. In one recent case a Surrey officer used a PDA while on patrol to record information about a fixed penalty notice issued for a road traffic offence. When the offender contested the penalty in court the officer was able to present the notes he had recorded on the PDA at the time of the incident. Once entered the information cannot be altered which gave authenticity to the information presented as evidence which helped convict the offender.

Surrey is one of two other forces taking part in the pilot which also involves Derbyshire and Avon & Somerset Constabulary, while Hampshire plan to join the pilot soon. Avon & Somerset officers are also using the technology to take witness statements electronically.
This NPIA-led bureaucracy cutting initiative could potentially save forces significant money and time. For example, the current manual process for witness statements involves typing and scanning some of the details from the handwritten statements in to the force crime system which on average can take police staff in a force around 360 hours a month. A significant number of statements also require typing for court which can take on average over 500 hours a month. The results of the pilot are expected to show a significant reduction in these hours. Computerising the witness statement taking process could also save the police service more than £2m per year on paper and administration costs.
In addition to this, up to a third of statements taken require the officer to immediately return to the station with it if, for example, it is needed as part of a major crime investigation. This new process could allow police officers on the beat to send the statement back to the police station and to criminal justice partners such as the Crown Prosecution Service without having to return in person, therefore cutting bureaucracy and saving police officers' time.

Nick Deyes, NPIA head of the Information Systems Improvement Strategy (ISIS), said: "Police notes and witness statements are a vital part of the criminal justice process as they are used as evidence. Therefore, it is crucial that these documents can be proven to be authentic and easily accessible to police officers and lawyers."

"This new initiative will potentially allow frontline officers to type police notes and witness statements without having to return to the police station making the whole process more efficient and cost-effective at the touch of a button."

The Electronic Police Notebook and Witness Statements project forms part of the Information Systems Improvement Strategy (ISIS), a reform programme for the police service that is using IT to improve efficiency. This will release savings and deliver operational improvements across policing and into the wider criminal justice system.

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