The number of cameras capable of recognising car number plates in North Yorkshire is set to triple by the end of the summer as part of efforts by police to tackle the gangs of cross-border criminals targeting the county.
North Yorkshire Police, which says 20 per cent of crime in its patch is carried out by people from outside the area, is spending an extra £1 million to increase the number of automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras it deploys.
As part of radical changes to the way the force operates, it also plans to equip all its patrol officers with mobile phones or tablets to cut down on bureaucracy and give them more time to be deployed to incidents.
North Yorkshire is the first force in the region to use the Mobile Asset Utilisation and Deployment System, also known as MAUDS, a “highly sophisticated” piece of software providing detailed real-time information about policing in the county.
Assistant chief constable Paul Kennedy, who is leading the force’s Operational Policing Model which aims to help it cope with future funding cuts, said criminals were coming into the county from the seven force areas that border North Yorkshire.
He declined to say exactly how many ANPR cameras there would be in future, but said they would be a mixture of fixed cameras, those in flexible locations and those being operated by officers from police vehicles.
He said: “We will use our intelligence system to place these cameras in locations dependent on where our demand is and what intelligence is telling us.
“The whole idea is that we do not just have cameras fixed and we leave them there, we have deployed cameras depending on where the threats are.”
The MAUDS software, which bosses hope to have in place by the end of the summer, shows control room staff where officers and vehicles are as well as the number of incidents and the amount of time spent patrolling in parts of North Yorkshire.
In total £10 million is being drawn from the force’s reserves for a one-off investment in new technology, including £3.5 million on giving officers mobile devices allowing them to complete paperwork and access police systems without returning to a station.
Mr Kennedy said he hoped officers would get the devices by next spring, though he said the timescale was “challenging” and no decision had been made about what type of device would be used.
The force has been looking at what other forces have handed out, including South Yorkshire Police, who in 2013 replaced many of its Blackberry devices given to officers after complaints they were “impractical” to use.
He said: “[The other forces] have learned their lessons, some have made some good decision and some have made not such good decisions, so we will learn from that.”
Among other changes made as part of the Operational Policing Model is the creation of a new cyber-crime unit and a move to a city and county management model, where different structures and priorities are in place for urban and rural areas.
New ‘investigation’ hubs have been put in place in York, Scarborough, Harrogate and Northallerton, with the majority of suspects taken there after arrest for processing so the officer who makes the arrest can get back onto the front line more quickly.
As part of the move custody suites in Skipton and Selby were closed, meaning potentially longer journeys for police after making arrests, which Mr Kennedy said had prompted more worries in Craven than in the Selby area because of the greater distances involved.
He said: “It is early days so far. We have had some teething problems in making sure everything is right and we have got people doing what they weren’t used to doing. The signs are that it is making us more efficient in what they investigate. We are freeing up more police officers to do their policing out on the street.
“Previously they were making an arrest and going to Skipton police station and spending hours doing all the form-filling that comes with an arrest. The early feedback is that patrol officers have more time freed up.”
Mike Stubbs of North Yorkshire’s Police Federation, which represents rank and file officers, said: “The move to investigation hubs is something that has occurred very recently. The force is about to undertake a review of the impact of the changes and it is too early to say whether they will have the impact that is intended.
“It remains to be seen whether the model will be sustainable if there are further significant cuts to funding for the police.”
He added: “Some of this new technology can make a difference, but ultimately you can’t send an iPad out to lock someone up.”
In the year to December there were a total of 34,499 crimes recorded in North Yorkshire, an increase of 0.2 per cent compared with the previous year and a total making the area among the safest in the country.
North Yorkshire Police is losing millions of pounds a year in central Government funding and expects further cuts from 2016 due to a shrinking public sector.
Mr Kennedy said: “We think North Yorkshire Police is a good strong traditional police force with very good neighbourhood policing.
“What we are trying to achieve, despite the financial challenges, is to make ourselves a really great police force. That is why we have put these changes in place, so we can be a great police force and not just a good one.”