Police get linked up with new National Database

UK cops now have what they describe as 'a powerful new toolkit' in the form of the National Police Database.

Designed to help prevent appalling crimes like the Soham murders - which saw child killer Ian Huntley allowed to work as a school caretaker despite having been investigated for sex crimes and burglary in the past - the NPD connects forces all over the country via the Internet.

It's widely thought that Huntley would never have been able to murder Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman if the police had access to cross-force information regarding his previous brushes with the law, even though they did not result in convictions.

The new database allows forces to share and access locally-held information from anywhere in the country allowing them to see a 'full intelligence picture' and 'identify patterns of criminal behaviour'.

Nick Gargan from the National Policing Improvement Agency said: "We know that child abusers, drug dealers and terrorists don't respect force boundaries, but in many cases forces have been conducting their investigations in isolation, unable to see everything the police service knows about a suspect and unable to make fully informed decisions. The PND pulls together all that local knowledge and allows investigators to see the full intelligence picture. As a result, they can react far more quickly and effectively when it comes to protecting the public.

"Until now this information had to be shared manually, a fallible and sometimes bureaucratic process dependent on the right staff being able to access and share the relevant files, which could take up to two weeks. Enabling the police to identify offenders like Ian Huntley earlier means we stand a much better chance of preventing others like him slipping through the net again.

"Many people will be surprised to know that the police service has not had this capability for many years - the good news is that they have it now."

The £75 million project, which has been implemented by IT outfit Logica, uses publicly accessible network infrastructure leading to concerns about the security of the 15 million personal records it holds. 12,000 carefully-vetted officers over 53 forces are being allowed access via the use of a smartcard, which may well be the weak link in the system.

With high-profile attacks on government institutions becoming a daily occurrence, whether those attacks be for the indulgence of kudos-hungry teenage hackers or for those with a more nefarious agenda, we suspect it will be a mere matter of time before someone finds a chink in the NPD's armour, no matter how bomb-proof they think their security is.

We'd also be remiss in our duty if we didn't point out that only 9.3 million of the 15 million people included in the database have been convicted of a criminal offence. A fact about which we'll allow you to come to your own conclusions.

We've asked the National Policing Improvement Agency to grant us an interview regarding the levels of security in place, which we hope to publish in due course.