Army on alert for trouble at new year

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The Independent Online
MILLENNIUM CELEBRATIONS are expected to lead to an outbreak of domestic violence - that could escalate into armed sieges - along with a five-fold increase in 999 calls, police chiefs warned yesterday.

Problems created by the millennium bug are also likely to trigger thousands of burglar alarms, many of which will go unanswered. There is also concern that cults may mark the turn of the century with acts of violence or suicide. A number of groups are currently being monitored by the police.

Police forces are bracing themselves for a huge increase in their workload over the new year and some forces are considering using recruits still in training to help out. The Army has agreed to help some forces with extra transport and administrative back-up.

The millennium contingency plans and risk assessment was outlined by police chiefs yesterday at a national police conference. While chief constables are confident their officers and equipment will be fully prepared for the celebrations and possible computer malfunctions, they warned yesterday they expect a huge surge in public disorder and workload.

Commander Tom Lloyd, of the Metropolitan Police, who is part of a national team of officers carrying out risk assessments, said they expected "a lot" of domestic violence cases as families, fuelled by alcohol, end up rowing.

"Domestic violence is an issue that can sometimes turn to life-threatening instances ... this can lead to armed sieges," he told delegates at the Association of Chief Police Officers' (Acpo) summer conference in Manchester. Mr Lloyd said the second major problem area was intruder alarms, many of which are expected to be activated at the stroke of midnight, because they have not been programmed to deal with 2000, or if there are power failures. "Intruder alarms could all go berserk," he warned.

Householders and businesses are to be advised that unless they have checked their alarm systems to ensure they are 2000 compliant, police might assume they are malfunctioning and ignore them until after the new year. "[We] will have to grade responses and decide whether to respond to all alarms," Mr Lloyd said. He added that the police had been told to expect five times the normal number of 999 calls during the celebration period.

John Evans, Chief Constable of Devon and Cornwall, who is heading the millennium issue for Acpo, said police were considering using recruits still in training and that most forces had drawn up contingency plans with the Army, but "there will not be soldiers on the street".

He added: "Cult activities are of concern and interest to us and we are monitoring them." Mr Evans stressed that all of the police forces in Britain were on schedule to be 2000 computer compliant.