Police use war technology in battle against car theft

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The Independent Online
(First Edition)

NORTHUMBRIA Police have adopted Gulf war-style technology to help in their fight against crime - particularly car thefts.

The force's French-built helicopter has been equipped with more than pounds 300,000 worth of state-of-the-art electronic gadgetry which can track down criminals in daylight or darkness.

From today the helicopter, which has a thermal image camera, a microwave 'down link' transmitter and the latest 'global positioning' satellite navigation system, will be linked to the force's control room. The equipment is of the type used in the Gulf war, making Northumbria the most technologically advanced force in the country.

The thermal image camera will use body heat to pinpoint people and then 'lock on' to them. It will enable a helicopter observer to transmit video pictures live into the Northumbria force's main operations room in either video mode or as thermal images. Controllers, who will see the same pictures as the helicopter crew, will then direct police officers on the ground to precise locations.

Chief Superintendent Bob Bensley, head of the force's traffic and air support unit, said yesterday that the new equipment would mean there would be 'no hiding place' for criminals. 'It means we will be able to hang well back, track them from the air and then surround them at our pace.'

Northumbria has the worst car theft record in the country, according to Home Office figures. Some 26,148 cars were stolen in the force area last year, although this did represent a drop of 7.5 per cent on the previous year. There were also 25,997 thefts from vehicles (14.4percent down on 1991) placing Northumbria at the top of the car crime league.

This led to many high-speed chases with suspects tending to leap from the stolen car and run in different directions. 'With this equipment that will not matter. They will be tracked from the air no matter which way they go and we will be able to follow them,' Mr Bensley said.