Ring … ring … CS phones ring

Editorial, Normal

THE news that the Correctional Services has acquired mobile phone detectors is welcome news indeed, but we have a yarn of our own which should interest them.
In July 2004, six pupils at the St Thomas of Canterbury College in Christchurch, New Zealand, developed a cheap device as part of a business competition.
The pupils called their device a mobile phone detector and, pretty soon, the device attracted international interest.
The device lets you know when phones are being used surreptitiously up to a range of about 30m.
The device can detect bursts of electromagnetic energy that normally occurs with bursts of radio frequency activity up to a radius of 30m and can also measure the distance of the mobile phone by the amount of energy received.
The detector then lights up light-emitting diodes – when four LEDs are lit, a mobile is in use close by. Just one lit LED means that the phone is being used at a distance of between 25m and 30m.
With interest and orders, the children were soon in business.
The children sold their gadget at the time for NZ$39 (K79 at today’s rate) but, it was expected that with marketing and better packaging and depending on the demand that was building up, the mobile phone detector was to increase in price to about NZ$100 (K203).
This was, of course, six years ago and things do change, but, what a change.
Early this year, PNG CS authorities, concerned with the use of mobile phones from within prison cells which led to some spectacular and headline-making escapes, decided to invest in phone detectors.
The news was released yesterday that K45,000 was spent to buy no less than six mobile phone detectors from England.
That works out to exactly K7,500 per mobile phone, or NZ$3,693. That seems to be way too expensive to us.
The price for a KJB security phone detector, a KJB security J1,000 audio jammer and a wireless RF signal detector (hidden video and bug detector) all retail at US$204.14 for the full set on the internet. That is way under K1,000 for a far better deal, we say.
From the explanation given to the media yesterday by CS Deputy Commissioner for operations Henry Wavik, the English phone detectors are no more superior that that which the New Zealand school children pieced together.
Each detector is powered by two AA size batteries and can be strapped to somebody’s belt. Its range is about 30m or 40m and light emitting diodes tells how far a surreptitious phone user might be.
We do not mean to ridicule the decision the CS has made.
There is a very serious problem that the prison service is trying to address.
Mobile phones are very small and can be hidden anywhere and they can be used in escapes, smuggling of weapons and passing of other important information.
But, we do seem to remember not too long ago that bank robbers were tracked down to a specific location by police, operating with cooperation from Australian police, using sophisticated tracking devices.
In this instance, the individuals were tracked to a very specific locality so that police could be mobilised quickly to move in and arrest them.
The expensive gadgets in the hands of CS do not seem to have that kind of capacity and only indicates a mobile phone in use within a certain radius.
Since prisons have homes of people and vehicles travelling in the vicinity, these gadgets are going to keep prison officers carrying the device fully occupied.
Metal detectors placed at strategic locations could detect metal or other alloys used on phones as visitors go in to visit prisoners and, thereby, stop smuggling of phones to the prisoners in the first place.
Proper screening of prisoners as they are moved in and out of jails could also stop smuggling of weapons or devices such as phones.
We have suggested many times the use of security video cameras. They will really come in handy and a few officers can watch over a far greater area of prison space if such technology were installed. That will include watching the movements of visitors as well.
A whole range of security measures will need to be implemented to get complete and satisfactory coverage. Within reason, and affordability, those technological equipment that would offer the best security ought to be chosen and that should never lead to a relaxation of good old disciplined physical presence by duty officers.
Prison security requires a comprehensive approach, not a bit by tiny bit approach.