POLICE in Coleraine are piloting a hi-tech scheme which allows them frontline access to evidence stored on digital devices such as mobile handsets and computers – paid for with cash taken from other criminals.
This is especially effective in combating sex offenders who use computers and mobiles but can also be used to examine devices for evidence of fraud and a range of other offences.
Officers in Coleraine now have a facility to examine computers and mobile handsets suspected of being used by offenders to store and distribute indecent images of children.
The Coleraine facility, which is the first of its kind in Northern Ireland, means that detectives will no longer have to travel to Belfast to have seized computers or handsets examined by the specialist e-Crime unit in Crime Operations Department. This will create an additional resource for investigating crime locally including indecent images of children and sex offender management and generally lead to investigations being progressed more quickly.
The money for the initiative has come from ARIS, the Assets Recovery Incentivisation Scheme, which takes cash and assets seized from criminals and uses it in the fight against crime.
If the Coleraine pilot proves successful, there are plans to roll out the scheme to all eight PSNI Districts in the near future, providing police with a greater and faster capacity to deal with offenders who use computers.
H District Detective Inspector Sean Fitzpatrick said: “This new equipment, its software and the additional training provided for local officers have placed local police right at the forefront of the fight against certain types of offending.
“The community will be safer and should feel safer as a result of this development. For example, individuals who use computers to create, store or send indecent images of children should know there will be no hiding place in this District.”
Detective Superintendent Wendy Middleton, from PSNI Organised Crime Branch, is the administrator of the ARIS scheme: “We are delighted to be able to support this initiative to assist in the police drive to reduce this type of crime and apprehend offenders.
“This provision of computer examination capability alone has cost around £5,000 for Coleraine but a total of £40,000 has been earmarked to establish similar facilities in police Districts throughout Northern Ireland.
“It is all the more satisfying that the money that we are able to contribute has come from assets that we have taken from criminals as part of the Asset Recovery Incentivisation Scheme. In effect, crime is paying to fight crime.”
Detective Superintendent Jonathan Roberts, from Serious Crime Branch, said: “The e-Crime unit in Belfast, which is part of Crime Operations Department, provides a highly skilled resource to identify and investigate digital evidence from computers and mobile handsets. The continuing growth of new technology means that frontline officers in a modern police service need to have appropriate and controlled access to digital devices to identify evidence at an early stage.
“A team of officers in Coleraine already have the capability to analyse mobile phones. This additional computer facility and the training which we have provided to local officers will speed up investigations in H District.
“It will also free up resources in Belfast to deal with other investigations into serious and organised crime. The funding from ARIS is delivering benefits locally and nationally, making communities safer, delivering speedier justice and sending out a message to offenders that police have the technology, the resources and the commitment to bring them to book.”