Police officers could use hand-held computers to take fingerprints and view a national database of criminals' mug shots by the time of the 2012 London Olympics.
Police are piloting a scheme to give officers on the beat access to a central database of fingerprints, mugshots and data on criminal suspects through mobile devices, said Peter Neyroud, chief executive of the National Policing Improvement Agency.
Mobile devices would allow officers to take fingerprints out on the street, view mug shots from the police national computer and transmit the data back to the central database, said Neyroud speaking to MPs at the final session of a home affairs committee inquiry into 'The Surveillance Society'.
He said images from CCTV cameras could link into facial mapping software that could produce alerts when they film a known criminal. Software could be used to identify unusual behaviour.
A mobile device pilot scheme involving 750,000 mug shots across all 43 forces in England and Wales is running in Lancashire, West Yorkshire and Merseyside.
Mobile devices would be linked with the Facial Images National Database project, which has been under development since 2005, to allow every force member access to the photographs while on the beat.
Last December, home secretary Jacqui Smith pledged £50m to fund the mobile devices scheme.
The use of PDAs by police officers was also supported by chief inspector of constabulary Sir Ronnie Flanagan in his Review of Policing to the home secretary last month. He said that officers' time was being wasted completing paperwork when data could be sent back on the street from PDAs.
"One force estimates they have saved 51 minutes per frontline officer [per day] through the use of handheld PDAs," he wrote, referring to early trials.
But the rollout must stick to common standards across the 43 police forces in England and Wales, Flanagan stated. "The service must act corporately in the implementation of mobile information solutions or we will waste millions of pounds on 43 different but similar IT solutions for operational processes which are all based on the same criminal law."
He also proposed common standards for IT as a whole across the policing regions. "Adopting disparate IT solutions across 43 forces is a potentially huge loss of opportunity and is only likely to further complicate the range of processes and systems currently operating service wide," he wrote.