Report calls for handhelds for all police officers

All police officers in the UK should have access to a handheld computer when they're on the beat, a government report has said.

Using personal digital assistants (PDAs) such as BlackBerrys can boost the amount of time officers stay out on patrol by cutting their paperwork, according to the Policing in the 21st Century' report from the Home Affairs Select Committee. Indeed, 14,000 BlackBerrys are already in use by 28 forces.

"All frontline officers should have access to a personal digital assistant," the report said.

The chief constable of the British Transport Police, Ian Johnson, told the committee that PDAs offered benefits over the traditional stop-search book, while Inspector Jim Hitch of Bedfordshire Police said the amount of time officers spent in the station fell after such technology was used.

But seven out of 10 officers surveyed by the Scottish Police Federation said PDAs made them less efficient, the report noted.

It also found that the cost of giving an officer a device for five years ranged from 3,000 to 6,500.

Since the publication earlier this year of the Flanagan report on policing technology, 19 English forces have won funding for 10,000 devices. Some eight Scottish forces have also won bids for government support. The government also announced another 25 million to fund 30,000 additional devices on top of the original 50 million.

The report also noted such technology could help avoid data duplication, as 70 per cent of information is currently entered into policing systems more than once.

The report called on policing agencies to make things easier for themselves and suppliers by standardising their approach. "Central procurement of new technology allows for economies of scale, consistent standards and integrated systems, and makes the police service a more attractive client for providers," the report said.

"The National Policing Improvement Agency should take the lead in negotiating the purchase of PDAs and their supporting infrastructure on a uniform basis, in order to reduce costs and remove contractual burdens from individual forces," the report added.