Expansion of video ID parades to ease police cuts fears

West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Mark Burns-Williamson (left) and his chief executive Fraser Sampson
West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Mark Burns-Williamson (left) and his chief executive Fraser Sampson

A ‘virtual identity parade’ service developed by West Yorkshire Police could be put into use around the UK and abroad as part of a raft of innovations bosses hope will counter a multi-million pound funding crisis.

The National VIPER Bureau, owned and managed by West Yorkshire Police since 1997 and used by 30 forces nationwide, has been hailed as a major improvement on the old-style ‘line-up’ for identifying suspects.

It allows victims and witnesses to pick out the suspect against similar faces on a video ID parade using a selection from a database of 40,000 rather than go into a police station in person.

Forces around the country already use the service 30,000 times a year, but West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Mark Burns-Williamson said there is “huge potential” to expand the service, “not only this country but abroad as well”.

The scheme is one of several West Yorkshire Police, which must make £150 million in cuts over five years, has in place to develop new sources of funding by developing cutting edge technology and promoting it elsewhere.

A new state-of-the-art training facility at Carr Gate, Wakefield, could become a ‘centre of excellence’ for use by others forces if agreement is reached with the College of Policing about gaining accreditation for the site.

And it has received European Union funding to develop two innovative policing schemes, one a smartphone ‘app’ for citizens caught up in a crisis abroad and another using social media to help combat radicalisation after a major incident.

Mr Burns-Williamson, who has responsibility for the force’s budget of more than £400 million a year, said the video ID parades can be viewed at home and mean victims will not have to go near their alleged attackers.

He said: “We provide this service already to a number of police forces and organisations, including the military. There is a huge scope, we believe, to extend this service abroad and to other police services in this country.”

Fraser Sampson, chief executive of the police commissioner’s office, said: “You can do this anywhere in the world, you don’t have to go to the police station, there is no prospect of meeting them, you can use the lookalike images over and over again. “

Mr Burns-Williamson now has staff in his office dedicated to seeking out and developing ideas for innovation.

And he said the force had a “vision of looking well beyond West Yorkshire in terms of the reach and ambition of what we can achieve” at Carr Gate, built under the private finance initiative programme alongside two divisional headquarters at a cost of £114 million.

The complex has world-leading facilities for firearms, public order and driver training.

Deputy commissioner Isabel Owen said: “Government cuts are coming hard and continue to come. We have to find new ways of dealing with the cuts but also because it is the right thing to do to make sure that we innovate.”

West Yorkshire Police’s Athena project, which has received more than £500,000 in EU funds, will develop a mobile ‘app’ to capture real-time information from the public during crises situations and put them in contact with local agencies.

Funding has also been received for a scheme called SMART CV, with the aim of developing a network of ‘credible voices’ on social media to stop support growing for terrorist or extremist ideologies.

Fraser Sampson said the force’s approach was not about “chasing money” but making sure chances were not missed to secure funds for innovations.