ESSEX Police have moved one step into the 21st century by going digital and giving its officers smartphones which could help detect crime and catch criminals.

The £2million investment will see uniformed officers being given mobile phones allowing them to carry out more policing tasks while on patrol across Essex rather than returning to police buildings.

The new initiative, which expects to see all mobile phones issued by mid-November, is expected to save officers up to one hour each shift.

PC Russell Bowman, from Basildon, has been a police officer for eight years and has been using the device for a few months already.

He said: “It is brilliant. It brings our job into the modern era being able to do certain things on the street rather than at the police station.

”Normally we would go to an incident, talk to the victim and write the details down, then we would have to go back to the station or call headquarters to relay the details so someone could put it on the system.

“Now we can directly type the information onto the system, cutting out writing it down, relaying it and someone else having to put it on the system.

“We can also give crime references out instantly on the scene.”

The mobiles will provide apps which will also allow officers to access CCTV to view footage as it happens, review missing person investigations, take pictures of suspects and crime scenes which can be immediately shared with colleagues.

Pc Mark Brind, from Southend, said: “One example is a missing person inquiry. A supervisor can email you a picture of the person so you are immediately aware of who you are looking for. Previously, we had to rely on verbal descriptions or go back to the station for a paper copy.

“It also means we can be more mobile and visible to the public. We can do our work where the public can see us and still approach us. We can also issue our direct numbers to victims in case they have questions while we are on duty.”

Essex Police travel an estimated 784,070 miles returning to stations each year to file crime reports and at a cost of £672,000.

Chief Constable Stephen Kavanagh said: “This is a big investment in keeping our frontline officers on the frontline where they need to be while ensuring the admin work that lies behind policing gets done.

“I know right across our country people want us to be more visible and maximising the time my officers are out and about rather than ploughing through admin in an office, we can truly give them more time to fight crime.

“Even though it’s early days we’ve seen how the CCTV app has helped us find missing people and locate criminals more quickly. Technology is changing the way we keep the country safe and we are working to make our smartphones even smarter.”

More apps are expected in the future, including location alerts straight to officers’ phones when they are, for example, passing a paedophile’s home who has restrictions.