IM this article to a friend!

December 30, 2002

Witnesses can text police with help

From: icBirmingham, UK - 30 Dec 2002

By John Revill, Birmingham Post

A ground-breaking text messaging system is to be launched by police in Birmingham to help them receive information about crime.

Officers based at Queens Road police station, in Aston, hope mobile phone technology will help them be more accessible to the thousands of people with handsets.

Mobile users will be able to respond to witness appeals by sending text messages which will be translated into e-mails and added to the control room computer.

The plan, which will be rolled out in January, is the brainchild of Det Insp Adrian Atherley, of Queens Road CID.

He said: "I originally thought of the idea following a shooting incident at La Mustique club in Aston.

"Although there were about 200 people in the club, we had no witnesses coming forward at all. Then there was another shooting incident and it was the same story again.

"I realised that many of these people would have had mobiles and we needed to find a better way of being more accessible to them."

The West Midlands force had already carried out a successful pilot scheme where deaf people were able to text the central police control room as a way to contact other emergency services.

Det Insp Atherley said: "The technology was not too difficult to pull together so we started to examine setting up a system where people could text us.'

The text messaging system could also help in missing persons inquiries by allowing people to text police to say they were okay.

It is not known how many calls will be received by police, but if successful the pilot could be expanded to other sectors across West Midlands Police.

Det Insp Atherley said: "In the past police officers have only had their own private mobiles to receive text messages, and they cannot hand their mobile numbers out to everyone.

"But this will help us manage our workload by encouraging people to make initial contact with officers and ask questions."

But he stressed the system would not be a replacement for the 999 emergency number.

He said: "People should still phone 999 if there is a serious situation. Although the text messages will be frequently monitored if people have a genuine emergency they should always phone 999.

"Text messaging is massively popular, especially among young people who are one of the harder groups for us to reach.

"People can text radio and TV shows, but they haven't been able to text the police. This should make us more accessible to everyone."

© owned by or licensed to Trinity Mirror Plc 2003