Dr Who-style police boxes to rematerialise on our streets

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The Independent Online

The police box, once a feature of British life and Dr Who's preferred mode of time and space travel, is poised to make a return to the streets.

The Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) hopes to boost community relations by resurrecting a nationwide network of the boxes, which provided the outward appearance of the Tardis in the BBC television series. In a proposal sent to the Home Office this week, Acpo argued that the police box, which was at its most popular in the 1950s when there were 700 in the London area alone, is an ideal tool of modern policing.

Inspector Ian Kelley of Northamptonshire Police said the boxes would improve the "visibility and accessibility of police". Many of the originals were demolished, but some had been exported as collectors' items or kept as film props for shows such as Heartbeat,

There is, however, one crucial difference between the old boxes and those proposed for the 21st century. Instead of containing a flesh-and-blood beat officer the modern box will be occupied by a "virtual bobby" who at the touch of an interactive screen will dispense local information and crime-prevention tips. A red "panic" button is fitted for emergencies.

A spokeswoman for police in Lothian and Borders, which has three prototype boxes, said: "They are a cross between the old-fashioned oblong box and a cash machine." She added that they had been approached by their English counterparts, who were keen to copy their experiment of resurrecting the police box for the purposes of community relations.

The boxes were introduced to Britain from America in 1888. They were designed to provide a stop-off point for beat officers between stations where they could call headquarters, as well as a way for the public to contact the police. With the invention of the two-way radio they were phased out in the late 1960s. Critics of the move said it was misguided because the boxes had provided a valuable source of reassurance to the public.

A police spokesman said that a Scottish prototype of the boxes would cost a four-figure sum but less than a beat officer's salary. The old-fashioned Tardis-style boxes, which were the most expensive in the range, cost £55 and 16 shillings (£55.80), excluding optional extras such as numberplate, a coat hook, fire extinguisher, lino and a brush and duster.