New mobile unit to speed up online investigations into crimes such as grooming.

Cleveland Police's new mobile technology unit.
Cleveland Police's new mobile technology unit.

Police have launched a new mobile van which can check devices for illicit materials on the go.

The Police Online Investigation Team for Cleveland Police said the van will enable officers to carry out pre checks of devices, such as mobiles, laptops and tables, at the source of their inquiries.

This will speed up the lengthy process of analysing devices for inappropriate material, such as indecent images and online grooming, as they enter a property with a warrant.

The mobile triage unit houses two computer units and examiners will be able to look at each piece of equipment as it is confiscated from the property and very quickly establish whether there is any inappropriate material contained on it. They can then quickly assess whether it will be seized or given back to the suspect.

Detective Inspector Steve Bell, said: "At present once a warrant is executed, we can take around 40 devices, including computers, telephones, memory cards, games stations and even TVs which need to be booked into the system once they have been seized.

"The mobile unit will enable us to quickly identify the devices immediately for suspected criminal material and will mean that what presently can take weeks to trawl through once protocols for booking in each device is followed, can be dealt with immediately.

“It means we will only need to confiscate a much smaller percentage of devices – perhaps around 4 rather than 40 in some instances - which will ease the burden on the examiners and mean the process will be a lot more efficient.”

The POLIT team has now been running for almost three years and has grown as the demand from online criminal activity has escalated.

The unit consists of two detective sergeants, two police staff investigators and ten detectives.

This month alone the team has received 15 new packages. One of those current packages has up to 80 other suspects attached, so each enquiry can often be prolonged with some extending into other countries where officers have established links to their counterparts.

Last year the team dealt with: 156 new investigations and 90 arrests were made, 122 crimes were detected with 37 people voluntarily attended police offices and 37 suspects currently on bail.

In total, 202 children have been safeguarded and the unit applies for a Sexual Harm Prevention order (SHPO) on every individual charged.

When devices are seized the images are graded and over the last 12 months the unit has graded over 300 devices containing millions of images. Currently there are 110 live investigations within the unit.