On the beat with iPlod

The prime minister wants more IT in the fight against crime. Police and thieves alike may find things not going quite to plan

Making his maiden speech as leader to the Labour Party conference this week, Gordon Brown pledged 10,000 handheld devices for police forces across the country so officers can log crimes on the spot:

Detective Inspector Regan was not happy. Not happy at all.

"Third night on stakeout, George, and all the little blaggers are tucked up in their gaffs playing Halo 3," he grumbled.

He checked the burger wrapper for one last chip. The car stank. He stank. And as for his oppo...

"Gotcha!" hissed Carter.

"What? Where?" Regan scanned the darkened alleyway across the street.

"No, guv. Minesweeper. Look — clear screen in 30 seconds." He held up his PDA.

"Oh, for..." grunted Regan. "Put the bloody iPlod down. You're supposed to be eyeballing scrotes."

"Sorry, guv," said Carter. "But there's nothing doing out there." His laptop pinged and its blue LED message light flashed. He flipped it open. "Directive 45/A/4/Met on IT and paperwork reduction, guv," he said. "It says 'Please ignore Directive 45/A/3/Met. It will be superseded by Directive 45/A/5/Met, to follow. And do we want to buy any high-dollar watches?"

"That was a bright idea, the One Laptop per PC," said Regan with infinite weariness. "Every uniform on the force is out there, sending more spam than the Berlin airlift."

"Wouldn't be so bad if they'd got the right OLPC," said Carter. "Look — it's trying to teach me how to count to five. With little cartoon lions. Aw, cute." The inside of the Ford Granada filled with tinny roaring.

"Shut it!" snapped Regan. "Hey, hold up..." His voice dropped to a whisper. "We've got a nibble."

The shadows in the alley were moving. A bulky figure materialised out of the murk, and stood at the edge of the orange pool from the streetlight. He was holding something...

"Careful, George," said Regan. "Could be a shooter." But Carter was already out, slamming the suspect into the wall as he turned to flee.

"He went down like a SCO accountant, guv," said Carter as his boss ran over. "Not much of a fight."

"Why, if it isn't Monkeyboy!" said Regan to the sweating, moon-faced figure. "We know you did the Steve Jobs, you slag. Biggest rip-off of the century, and your dabs are all over it."

"I'm not an iPhone, copper," spat Monkeyboy. "Youze can't touch me."

"I hope you've got a licence for that," Carter said, as he took the device from Monkeyboy's clammy fingers. "Look, guv, a Zune. Got 'im bang to copyrights."

"Yeah, yeah," Monkeyboy rasped. "Dat's innovation, dat is, no matter what Interpol says. Now, youze gonna let me walk, or am I gonna get my brief to chuck a few chairs at youze?"

"He's right, George," sighed Regan. "Makes me sick. Billion-dollar ring he's running, and nothing we can do..."

Carter didn't answer. He was staring at the Zune.

"Gotcha!" he cried.

"Not more bloody Minesweeper, George. Not now."

"No, guv. Look. Wi-Fi. Connected to..."

"Linksys. You beauty." Regan could taste the scotch already. "OK, Monkeyboy, you're a long way from home and that's all we need. Stealing wireless networks — what's that worth, detective sergeant?"

"Ten years in the Scrubs, easy — and no chance of escape. It's file not found for you, my son."

"Log him in, George. Log him in."

"With pleasure." Carter fished his widescreen Vista laptop out of his shoulder bag.  "Oh, what the hell's that?"

The screen glowed in the darkness. "Please wait," it read. "Downloading essential updates over GPRS. Expected time to completion: three days, five hours, 10 minutes... 11 minutes... 12 minutes..."

"Can't hold me that long without charge, suckers," smiled Monkeyboy. "So long..." He started to walk away.

An odd sound echoed through the alleyway.

Later that week, Digg reported its heaviest traffic on record. Not bad going for a medical report but, as the police proctologist said, it was the strangest case he'd ever seen.

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