Recent advances in body scanning technology such as the BodySearch personnel inspection system might be fine for airports, but are a bit too big to be an option for cops on the beat who are forced to identify criminals carrying guns and knives the old fashioned way. A prototype scanner developed by British scientists could free police from the time-consuming and often dangerous practice of stop and search by using electro magnetic waves in order to pick up ‘reflections’ from concealed guns, gun barrels or knives without the need to be close to the subject.

The lightweight, handheld device emits low-power microwaves on similar wavelengths to the new body scanners being rolled out to a number of airports. The microwaves reflected back to the device are picked up and analyzed using ‘neural network’ technology, like that used in automatic number plate recognition systems. Working on the principle that the radar returns from people carrying a gun or knife look different, the weapon is identified, while everyday items the subject may be carrying are ignored.

Unlike airport scanners, no image of the subject’s body is produced and the device is also non-intrusive. However, because of sensitivities surrounding its use, it hasn’t been revealed at what range the device can operate, although Professor Nick Bowring from Manchester Metropolitan University, who led the development of the new device, said it was a “useful stand-off range”.

Although the device isn’t perfect, Professor Browning says he and his team have managed to reduce the number of false positive readings to a very low level. They believe their scanner could help police officers catch people carrying guns and knives without putting themselves in increased danger. It could also help to target stop and search to further increase effectiveness.

The prototype scanner was developed at the Manchester Metropolitan University with tests currently being carried out by the Metropolitan Police Operational Technology Department. If the tests go well the finished product could be available to police forces around the globe within two years.

Darren Quick