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15,000 London coppers to receive new crime-fighting tool: an iPad

£200m program to include 'predictive' tech à la Minority Report

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London's Metropolitan Police are about to be equipped with a new crime-fighting tool: Apple's iPad mini.

"We want the officers out there fighting crime on the streets rather than sitting in a police station tapping on a keyboard, not solving anything," the force's head flack Richard Thwaite told the Financial Times (registration required). "Even if they are in Starbucks keying in details, then at least they are out there, visible and accessible and reassuring to the public."

This reassurance will begin with a trial program of 600 of the crime-fighting fondleslabs being handed out to officers in the London borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, the first part of what the Met announced on Friday to be a £200m ($327m) program that will over the next three years provide over 15,000 coppers with Apple tablets.

The iPads will be loaded with apps developed by the force, and will give the boys in blue the ability to record crimes and statements by witnesses, along with providing location-based information on gang members and recent crime victims, plus directions to the the nearest hospital emergency room – although one might hope that policemen might know that bit of info already.

"Officers will even have an app to order new uniforms," the FT reports.

The Met expects that the technology investment will result in a savings of 30 per cent on their existing IT expenditures, but the FT points out that similar programs have been far less than successful. "The National Audit Office found in 2012 that a Home Office scheme to equip officers with more than 40,000 mobile devices," they write, "had produced savings of just £600,000 out of a projected £125m."

Rather than hanging out in Starbucks and reassuring the public, reports concluded, officers were actually spending more time in the office after being equipped with those mobile phones, not less.

Thwaite, however, is bullish on the program, telling the FT that not only will the tablets provide the force with crime stats gathered throughout London – not just in the plods' working boroughs, as is currently the case – but that those stats will also be used to provide "predictive" maps of future crimes, a program not unlike the "Precrime" squad in the 2002 film Minority Report.

Before you pooh-pooh such capabilities, know that a similar program tested in Los Angeles found that property crimes in the area under test dropped by 12 per cent in one year, while in nearby neighborhoods where more traditional policing remained the order of the day, it rose by 0.5 per cent.

Whether such crime-fighting tools will lower London's crime rate remains to be seen, but The Reg predicts one result of the addition of iPads to the Met's arsenal: an epidemic of Flappy Bird addiction among the constabulary. ®

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