The so-called real-time investigators in Leeds are using hi-tech intelligence databases to close the net on burglars often within minutes of break-ins.
Their introduction about six months ago has been credited with contributing to an unprecedented drop in burglary rates in the city over the normally busy winter period.
Between October and December, break-ins fell by 18 per cent compared with the same period the year before – the biggest on record for the three-month period. Police expect burglary rates for the current financial year to be the lowest since records began.
The real-time investigators begin inquiries on police databases as soon as crime reports come in, trying to match descriptions of suspects to known criminals, looking at recent crime patterns and checking the details of vehicles known to have been involved.
They are responsible for co-ordinating the response to burglaries as quickly as possible, including where to send officers, and in what numbers, and requesting specialist resources like the police helicopter and dog handlers.
Pc James Birks, who has been doing the job since September, said in one recent example the arrest of a burglar near a crime scene in the village of Bramhope led police to his accomplice.
He said: “I was able to work out who his mate was. I deployed officers to his house which wasn’t too far away. He was seen coming back, out of breath, with muddy feet. So we had them both for burglary.”
He added: “In the past we were guilty of sending one officer to the scene to get details. Then they might get sent to another five calls.
“It might be hours before they’re recording everything and there could be lines of enquiry that we could have been following up.
“We’re still using traditional methods but it’s about doing the right things first time.”
Leeds has historically had some of the worst burglary figures in the country, but last year the number of break-ins fell to 4,800 – down from more than 16,000 in 2003.
Chief Supt Paul Money, commander of Leeds division, said: “There are certain officers who thought we’d never see these kinds of numbers.
“We’re getting things a lot more right than we were. It’s just a case of continuing to do it.”
He said the use of real-time investigators was an example of the “smarter” use of detective techniques. “We’re seeing examples every day of burglars who are being arrested almost immediately,” he added. “The obvious benefit of that is that they’re not at liberty to commit more burglaries.”