Essex Police serves an area of over 1,400 square miles and a population of over 1.5 million. As with many investigation units, Essex Police major investigation Support unit based in Chelmsford, Essex, historically pulled supporting information from each appropriate source separately. Collated data, maps, and photographs, were viewed, while a standard dry marker whiteboard was used to collate other information. Everything then had to be typed up and saved in various file formats.
The job of major investigation units is not an easy one. There are four such teams supporting major investigations by bringing intelligence and key information together. With countless paper based files of supporting information to pull together, from numerous sources, data management, consistency and coherency are significant tasks. Trying to then over lay this data on to mapping images, crime scene photography and then connect to the forces network, is a complex and unwieldy task. However, Essex Police looked to innovative new technology to help in this effort. The objective was to use technology to help aid the investigation in terms of efficiency and effectiveness.
David Blackiston, MICAS or as he’s more commonly known, Major Investigation Support Manager, decided that the use of interactive whiteboard technology could help with the cumbersome nature of pulling in these various sources of data pertinent to the investigation. David gained the use of a SMART Board™ interactive whiteboard and then outlined his approach to his colleagues.
Detective Superintendent Win Bernard, being technically minded, used it and immediately saw the advantages. He then convinced other investigation officers to use the facility in the investigation rooms, and the decision was made, to introduce technology to support the unit.
Consequently audio visual supplier Smarter Interactive, based in Reading, were brought in to deliver the technology and products to support this initiative, and David Blackiston gave them a brief of what they wanted to achieve.
“After the first demonstration Smarter Interactive clearly understood all the issues and requirements and delivered the precise response,” confirms David. “We had a SMART Board™ installed in 5 locations with ceiling mounted projectors. Because of the low ceiling in one room, they implemented a SMART Board™ for Plasma Display, which is an interactive overlay over a plasma screen.
Because interactive whiteboards display a projected image from a networked computer, the technology enables the presentation of live data. Information on the force network, electronic mapping data, digital aerial photography, and data from other units can be viewed and discussed. Live map data of the scene can be zoomed in and out of.
The information can be annotated over, areas highlighted, ideas grouped, and at each stage the information is automatically time and date stamped, and all saved for future use. As a force they are obliged to keep an audit trail of information collated during a major investigation. As David explains “If the question is asked “what happened at the briefing?” for anyone not present the information is immediately available for presentation or to be forwarded on by email. Future briefings can also be prepared for, so they can be a lot more informed before a meeting.”
David describes an example of a planned raid. “Data, photographs, and hand drawn plans can be superimposed over aerial photographs of the area, and displayed to the unit, adding realism to the arrangements. We discuss the plan, offering opportunities for the unit to build knowledge and ideas from each other. Any data or historical information can be immediately tapped in to. It is a completely new way of presenting information to investigation teams.”
And there are further developments in the pipeline. One planned area for modernisation is the fact that the 40 teams supporting major investigations, historically travelled to a central meeting point, with information that was no longer live. Today, Essex Police use Microsoft’s Net Meeting, audio conferencing application, so information from each squad is displayed live on their unit’s PC screens or projected up on the SMART Board™ for all to see.
This is used in conjunction with VHS/DVD players and sound systems. The PCs are linked into the force’s network so they can bring live data from other areas into the briefings. Their Holmes 2 Admin System, I2 analytical information displays charts to do with the investigation in hand. This has bought a whole new way of presenting briefing information in a fast and efficient way. Taking this to the next stage, Smarter Interactive have introduced David to Bridgit™, SMART Technology’s data conferencing application that is set up literally by a click on the screen.