The market for Personal Digital Assistants has received a filip with the news that Derbyshire Constabulary in the UK is testing the possibility of supplementing the policeman’s traditional black book with Apple Computer Inc’s Newton. The interest shown by the police must come as welcome relief to Apple, which last year abandoned all pretence that […]
The market for Personal Digital Assistants has received a filip with the news that Derbyshire Constabulary in the UK is testing the possibility of supplementing the policeman’s traditional black book with Apple Computer Inc’s Newton. The interest shown by the police must come as welcome relief to Apple, which last year abandoned all pretence that the Newton is a consumer product and began pitching it to vertical markets. It believes that if the police buy it then so could the fire brigade, the ambulance service and even the self-styled fourth emergency service, the Automobile Association. But before Apple starts getting carried away with day dreams that uptake by the emergency services – there are 127,000 police officers alone – will pay off Newton’s development costs, it should be noted that Derbyshire has bought only 12 Newtons so far, at about ú400 each. Nevertheless, the trial’s concept is interesting: the constabulary wants its officers to use Newtons at the scenes of crimes to record details of the incident and beam them back immediately to the force’s central computerised crime archive. For each crime, there are a set number of questions that must be answered and those answers are recorded on this database for every crime committed in the county. Normally the officer would jot details down at the scene of the crime, hoping to remember all the questions that the computerised archive will demand of him, and then back at the station a few hours later, he would transfer that handwritten information into the archive via a personal computer and a program that would prompt him for information. The introduction of the Newtons is an attempt to eliminate this repetition of data entry; effectively, it acts as a mobile front end to the archive. The force calculates that it could save an hour a day of a policeman’s time, not just by eliminating the need to transfer information, but because the mobile front-end prompts the user for all the details needed for the particular crime being attended. It does this via a series of pick lists: using a stylus on the Newton’s touch screen, the policeman drills down through these lists, ticking off relevant information in accordance with the archive. The software to do this has been developed by Technological Business Solutions Ltd, a Belper, Derbyshire company that is also a Newton reseller and has been developing similar systems for the fire brigade in Staffordshire and ambulance crews in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Smashed the window
The company and constabulary have been working together for eight months to develop the software that provides the lists and answers for a policeman to complete the details needed in 100 varieties of crime. The user is first presented with a menu screen: what is chosen next depends of the crime, but, for example, in a burglary he’d choose the screen to register that crime, then the one on modus operandi, then a suspect description and then the property lost, and so on. The screens would offer a selection of things like apartment or house; smashed the window or kicked in the door; nobody seen or small, redheaded man; and television, video, sofa and kitchen sink. The software, called Newton Crime Information System, runs in 500Kb of the Newton’s standard 2Mb m emory. However, the poorly received and not much fancied handwriting recognition software is not being used at all – not because it doesn’t work, according to Apple, the constabulary and Technological Business, but because the Newtons will be shared and handwriting recognition systems need to be customised to just one user’s script. If the trial, which starts next month for eight weeks and will concentrate on the robustness of the Assistants, proves successful, then it will be expanded and Newtons might be adopted as just another crime fighting tool. However, they will never replace the black notebook that a police officer reads from when in court, as the Newton’s purpose is only to record details of a crime, whereas the paper notebook records evidence that is admissable in court.