The long arm of the law has just got longer, says Dublin tech firm

28 Aug 2008

Technology developed by a Dublin software company could become a major weapon used by police forces to curb organised crime.

The fight against crime, whether on the streets, in the courts or in prisons, is evolving into a lamentable saga in which concerned citizens feel totally frustrated that criminals who have not done their time are being released early into society.

What’s often not recognised is the frustration arresting officers experience in learning that a criminal they arrested re-offended upon early-release or disappeared pending a warrant.

The wheels of technology are turning though and now police officers working for the London Metropolitan Police, for example, can get timely intelligence on over 15,000 ex-criminals in seconds, with arresting officers notified by email when and where a prisoner has been released.

The company behind this important technology is Dublin-based software house Saadian, which has gone on to deliver a similar system across more than 70pc of police organisations in the UK – some 20 constabularies – including Thames Valley Polic and Greater Manchester Police.

Saadian’s database technology, entitled Prisoner Intelligence Notification System (PINS), locates and tracks offenders through the prison system. This task used to take officers several days, but now takes seconds.

The system, which is digitally encrypted and password authenticated, will eventually be made mobile to work with officers using the latest secure force mobile networks employed by emergency services globally known as TETRA (Terrestrial Trunk Radio), so that officers on the beat can be notified on the move.

The aim is to free up police manpower, prevent repeat crime and enable specialist police units to keep up to date and act fast.

“In its simplest form PINS is a system that notifies police forces about upcoming prisoner releases,” explains Saadian managing director, Cliodhna McGurk. “It compares the prison population against those about to be released in a certain area. A lot of crime is repeat crime often committed by the same offenders. The idea is to reduce this crime by allowing the police to prepare for prisoner releases.

“As well as that, because officers have the information at their fingertips, they can examine the existing prisoner population and see which prisoners are associating with whom. Members of different gangs associating with one another in prison fuels the increase in regional crime levels.”

McGurk says a major benefit of the PINS technology is that the system also keeps a check on wanted and warranted prisoners. “A prisoner could be in prison and a warrant could be issued on the outside and PINS helps officers keep a tab on that. It sounds ridiculous but some criminals actually go to prison just to hide. Now someone with a criminal career won’t be able to hide in this way.”

According to McGurk, a recent Home Office Report commended the PINS technology for its help in enabling officers to keep a track of warrants and recommended all police organisations in the UK should have a prisoner release system.

She says Saadian is actively looking at exporting the model beyond the UK to other countries such as the US. At home in Ireland the Gardaí have yet to deploy such a system, despite the growth of organised crime.

“Historically, because of Ireland’s size it hasn’t been a big issue for the Gardaí, but with the rise of organised crime, knowledge of prisoners matters more and more. We’ve highlighted to the Gardaí and the Police Service of Northern Ireland that an all-island system for monitoring prisoners should be introduced.

“In the UK, the various police forces are looking at integrating PINS into the new Police National Computer. From a technology point of view another important development is the ability to make PINS securely available on mobile handsets via TETRA over the Airwave network so police officers will be made aware of prisoner releases in a way not too dissimilar to receiving an email via a BlackBerry.”

In Ireland, Saadian has deployed its technology to a number of local authorities and emergency services, as well as the Revenue Commissioners and the Local Government Computer Services Board.

The company employs over 20 people, currently has a turnover in excess of €1m and, McGurk says, is generating healthy profits.

The PINS technology, McGurk says, will prove vital not just for police efficiency but for public protection. “Some people with dangerous backgrounds are often released into an area where the police aren’t aware of their backgrounds.

“The technology allows police to more effectively manage offenders, especially those convicted of violent crimes, and ensure public safety,” she says.

Thanks to the young Dublin company, it seems the long arm of the law just got longer.

By John Kennedy

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years