A national police internet portal enabling people to report minor crimes will go online this week.
The scheme is a joint venture between the Pito (Police Internet Technology Organisation) and BT Quadrant. The service will initially be available in England, but plans to extend the venture across the rest of the UK are underway.
"By giving members of the public greater flexibility in reporting non-urgent crime, this portal will help revolutionise the traditional police/public interface and increase police efficiency," said Jeff Parris, general manager for BT Quadrant. "It is a major step forward in communications practice for the police service."
Sussex Police Force was the first to take part in the initiative. It now receives around 100 emails a day, compared to 3,000 emergency and non-emergency calls. South Yorkshire is currently the only force that does not have an online presence.
But scheme organisers stress that it is important people do not use the site instead of phoning 999. "It is not for reporting emergencies," said Sup Neil Grant-Salmon, business development manager at the Pito. "There will be plenty of warnings you cannot use the site for anything serious."
Minor non-emergency crimes such as theft can be reported via the Police.co.uk portal, a move that marks a step toward the government's initiative to provide all government services online by 2005.
"Exploiting this kind of technology is vital if the police service is to adapt to the changing demands placed on it," said Pito chief executive Vivienne Dews.
The police hope the new £600,000 service will increase the number of crimes reported by allowing people to log in at their local supermarket or corner shop.