West Midlands Police saves four hours per crime with online reporting tool

West Midlands Police can now start investigating thefts in minutes not weeks thanks to an online reporting tool developed by UK SME Facewatch.

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West Midlands Police has sped up investigations and saved thousands of hours of police time thanks to an online reporting tool, according to police sergeant Andrew Gregory.

Businesses can now report crime online rather than dialling 999. The platform and an associated app for the public have enabled over 100 arrests so far since launch in mid-2013, he told ComputerworldUK.

Previously shops, pubs or other firms would report a crime, the police would go to the premises, get a copy of the CCTV footage and would often need to convert it or download the right software to watch it, a process that "could take up to two to three weeks”, Gregory said.

Now, businesses can report the crime online and upload CCTV footage which is automatically converted into an MP4 file, allowing the police to view it 20 to 30 minutes after the incident.

Once a crime report (with or without CCTV) is sent, the police receive an email containing a link. They log into Facewatch to view the report, which contains images, clips, time, day, date of offence, address, offence type, details of what happened and so on.

West Midlands Police, which is the second biggest force in the country, said about 1,000 premises are using the system across the region, including a number of the biggest retailers.

“It speeds up our investigation considerably. We can see the images on the day not two to three weeks down the line. Equally we aren’t doing pure admin tasks, freeing up time to investigate the case far quicker. There’s a considerable cost saving too,” Gregory said.

The platform, built by UK SME Facewatch, is in use in about a quarter of police forces in England and Wales.

As well as allowing businesses to send CCTV and crime reports, the company also provides forces with a smartphone app where they can share images of suspects, witnesses or other individuals they wish to interview with the public.

The app has been responsible for over 100 arrests by West Midlands Police so far which would not have taken place otherwise, according to Gregory.

It is being developed further across the force “on a day to day basis” with growing numbers of firms opting to use the tool. For example the police are hoping to start to use it to link together different crimes to specific suspects or groups, Gregory said.

“Once they see it, everyone just gets it, and says ‘I wish we’d had this earlier’,” he said.

West Midlands Police awarded Accenture a five-year £25 million contract to improve its use of technology and find efficiency savings last July.

As part of the contract HP will design a new IT infrastructure to make it easier to support mobility, security and data analysis. In particular it will help to update and integrate the force’s many ageing, disparate systems.