Crime fighters to go on line

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Indy Lifestyle Online
A computer-based voice messaging system is being installed in London police stations which sends up to the minute information about crimes to Neighbourhood Watch co-ordinators by telephone, enabling them to act as the 'eyes and ears' of the law.

The system, known as RingMaster, is operational in Battersea station in Wandsworth. Paddington and Golders Green will have it running in the next few weeks. Other divisions are discussing adopting the scheme.

Tomorrow more than 200 Neighbourhood Watch co-ordinators, representing 11,000 schemes in the Metropolitan police area, will see RingMaster demonstrated at the Marriott Hotel.

The initiative comes as Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, is under pressure to tackle crime. One of his recent proposals, to turn Neighbourhood watchers into street patrollers was reported the same day as a Liverpool man was savagely beaten after telling off boys for vandalising his car. The idea was greeted with derision by the Police Federation and many senior officers.

With RingMaster, the only street patrolling watchers do is distributing memos. This could be details of bogus officials in the area or of a stolen car.

The system, which costs about pounds 4,000 to instal, was pioneered in Sussex and is undergoing evaluation in Warwickshire; 18 forces out of the 43 in the UK have adopted it in one form or another.

Mr Howard visited Sussex two weeks ago to look at the progress of Neighbourhood Watch in general. David Maclean, a junior minister in the Home Office, responsible for crime prevention, is due to visit Warwickshire next week.

Kevin Preston, managing director of IV Developments based in Cardiff, which created the system, says that in Darlington, County Durham, RingMaster led to around nine arrests per month. Police statistics are virtually non-existent.

A database at the station holds the names, addresses and telephone numbers of Neighbourhood Watch Co-ordinators. Intelligence is fed in via microphone and the voice is digitized and recorded. An officer selects the target audience, and the computer rings the designated phone numbers.

To gain access to the message the Neighbourhood watcher taps a pin number into his telephone key pad. A co-ordinator can give information to the police via the computer.

PC John Kelly, of Battersea station, which has used RingMaster for over a year, said: It is a great piece of kit. The failure of Neighbourhood Watch in the past has been getting good information out quickly.'

His beat covers 240 watches and the scheme has recently been expanded to include three out of 13 Business Watches.

PC Kelly said the main problems have been human error and training people to use the software. Chief Inspector Steve Arnold, head of community liaison for Warwickshire police, said: 'In Warwickshire there are quarter of a million eyes and ears we have access to. RingMaster now reaches 81,000 households.'

General Accident has special Neighbourhood Watch policies which give discounts. It is sponsoring the conference and the RingMaster system at Golders Green.

It claims that on average one home in twelve was burgled last year across Britain. Amongst Neighbourhood Watch schemes it was one in seventy-five.

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