The National Footwear Reference Collection (NFRC)

Providing a new ‘nationally-agreed language’ for coding footwear in policing.

May 14, 2009
By Simon Bramble

Providing a new ‘nationally-agreed language’ for coding footwear in policing.

The National Footwear Reference Collection (NFRC) was launched in April and provides a national footwear reference library using a single common coding system for identifying different types and models of footwear and their associated footprint templates. It is Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) owned and part of the National Intelligence Model (NIM) levels two and three.
The NFRC is a collaborative project between the National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA) and Bluestar Software Ltd. The NFRC has been fully funded by the NPIA and will be available free to all police forces across England and Wales.

The NPIA’s Forensics21 programme, under the management of Dr Simon Bramble, head of police science and forensics, was approached in October 2007 by the National Footwear Board to create a new ‘national language’ for coding footwear patterns and a system which would provide a national footwear reference collection. Previously, forces have used either a coding system which they have paid for from any of a number of forensic suppliers, or created their own coding system. This had meant a fragmented approach and led to missed opportunities in crime detections, particularly with cross border offences.
The Forensics21 Programme ‘Footwear Project’ commenced in November 2007 to provide such a national footwear reference library and:
•Facilitate proactive management of a national footwear reference library using manufacturer, supplier and police force data (ie, custody prints, crime scene footwear marks, fakes) as source input.
•Provide local ‘easy-to-use’ access to a national footwear reference library, phasing implementation to police forces across England and Wales by December 2009.
•Training for up to 120 identification specialists (at least two per police force) to use a national footwear reference library for identification purposes.
•For data to be ACPO owned.
•Encourage take-up by non-participating police forces.
In August 2008, after a formal tender process, the Forensics21 Footwear Project Board awarded contracts for design, development and technical support of the NFRC to Bluestar Software and West Yorkshire Constabulary. Bluestar was tasked with developing the IT solution and West Yorkshire with hosting the service on the CJX online platform to enable police forces to access the NFRC as a secure web-based application.
West Yorkshire also provided a helpdesk facility to resolve any IT issues. Chris Sims, chief constable of Staffordshire Police and senior responsible owner (SRO) of the Forensics21 Programme, said: “The NFRC represents the first major milestone between ACPO and the NPIA in the development of the forensic IT world.”
A change group made up of experienced footwear practitioners from numerous police forces across England and Wales and members of the NPIA’s Forensics21 programme team was formed in order to create a ‘coding language’ for the NFRC. A coding formula comprising name/number was developed, for example, Reebok 1, Nike 2, together with 14 descriptor types.
The NFRC offers several choices of full descriptor search, based on the nationally-agreed codes. A trained practitioner can search on the two specific areas of the footwear sole (main or heel) or a general item wide descriptor search. A key feature is a specialised search control built with the input and guidance of the footwear practitioners. This allows a powerful search, including any combination of criteria, to be constructed easily. Selection options are reinforced using colour coding for visual confirmation together with help text and sample images. A logo picker completes the set by allowing search on a selection of categorised logos.

The pilot process and going live
Design, prototype and development of the NFRC web-based application and collection was delivered for installation in early 2009 with pilots commencing in March in L

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