While the role and responsibilities of a law enforcement official are only becoming more difficult, there is an increasing number of mobile phone apps that can reduce some of the stress associated with the job.
In fact many of these apps do make accessing, recording and sending information much more efficient. Others can increase safety. In general the goal though is to provide officers with more information about how to get somewhere, what might be ongoing at a scene and tools to more efficiently do their jobs.
“There are literally tens of thousands of apps available to our customers now and many of them could help (police, fire and EMS),” said Verizon Wireless Spokesperson Debra Lewis, who is an expert in wireless content, multimedia and data and Internet issues. “As long as you have a smart phone you have access to a wealth of information.” Law enforcement officials who can master the use of such phone apps can improve job performance while streamlining their efforts. But it can be difficult to find the most effective apps for field use.
In July 2010, Motorola conducted a study on the use of next generation technology by public safety departments. The survey discovered how public safety professionals are using voice and data-centric next generation technology today. And how they’re planning to use it in the future. The results of the survey are shown and discussed in this report.
Not surprisingly, the survey shows that the use of high-speed broadband solutions in public safety is growing. A significant majority reported interest in using data as well as voice applications. Over 65 percent of respondents specifically mentioned data applications as part of their vision for future first responder support. In addition, almost 60 percent agreed that getting that getting data messages through is just as important as voice communications.
Owning and controlling their own public safety networks was also seen as ideal, mentioned by almost 70 percent of respondents. The survey further discovered a number of important benefits public safety professionals are expecting from next generation mobile technology. Among them are the ability to interoperate and communicate with other jurisdictions and federal government agencies, access to local, state and federal databases and the use of video surveillance in both mobile applications and in the command center.
Looking toward the future, the survey reports that nearly 70 percent of responding departments plan to add new data system technology in the next five years. Types of systems most mentioned were Public Safety LTE broadband, Project 25 mission critical communications and fixed WiFi hotspots.
According to a 2010 APCO study, voice recording and push-to-talk and location information are the two most sought-after apps by law enforcement officials and officers today. Those are two applications that officers must use in the field and emphasize safety, said Dr. John Vaughan, vice president of marketing and business development for Harris Public Safety. “When it comes to push-to-talk our clients are looking for features that are designed to be used by officers in the field,” Vaughan said. “They are designed to facilitate a group of people working together.”
The need for voice and location and navigation apps might be paramount but vehicular data is taking on an expanded role for most officers, Vaughan said. The ability to access data from the vehicle, which serves as a virtual office for field personnel, helps to increase efficiency. Video in particular is important and with broadband access becoming more readily available, the ability to use real-time video will become even more valuable. “You’re talking about having eyes on the incident as it happens,” Vaughan said. “All of these apps are positively impacting safety.”
In many cases the types of apps that are most commonly used by enforcement officers and public safety officials are readily available and used by any consumers, Lewis said. Apps that communicate state criminal and traffic statutes are available through Google and the website Anywho. Maps will offer satellite images of terrain although they may not be the most current options.
Camera and video apps, some which may come pre-loaded, allow officers to snap quick mug shots and create routine evidence photos. Once taken, those images are easy to upload and email. Weather apps and satellite related apps and websites can also help law enforcement officials prepare for natural events and track and communicate where storms currently are.
The state of Texas and others around the country offer apps that include details on the state penal code. In addition translation apps can help officers who are communicating with individuals speaking foreign languages. In addition ePocrates is a useful app to help identify different types of pills and narcotics.
These days it doesn’t matter if you own an Apple iPhone, a smart phone powered by Android or a BlackBerry phone, because apps are available everywhere Lewis said. And more app developers are seeing value in creating an app for each of the three main platforms: Apple, Android and Research in Motion (for BlackBerry).
“It really will depend on the IT policies and what works for each agency,” Lewis said, when asked if there is a general preference among law enforcement agencies for types of smart phones. “BlackBerry has the reputation of having a more enterprise focus but they have caught up (with offering more apps). And all the services offer safe and secure downloading of apps now as well.”
BlackBerry, for example, has developed a large number of apps specifically for law enforcement officials through its own store: Advanced GPS Tracker
– This is a strong mapping and tracking app that provides real-time data on a motorist’s current speed, direction and location. It excels from an accuracy standpoint and also is known for its geocaching. There are also many other similar apps available through Apple and Android. Berry Record
– This mobile application is designed to record voice notes during an active phone call, saving time without adversely impacting safety. It allows for the use of recording and storing evidence. It is only available on certain BlackBerry phones. CaptureIt
– This app allows officers to take a screenshot of what is currently displayed on his or her phone screen. A click allows for the capture of screenshots from a phone screen for storage needs. Law enforcement officers use it to take shots of a location on a map with the help of GPS navigation. It can also record instant messaging trails, a web page or other photo or text files. Emergency First Aid Treatment Guide
– A quick reference on First Aid and other basic treatment is available with this app. It covers a range of basic and even some not-so-basic medical recommendations on such issues as bleeding, fainting, heat stroke, convulsions and seizures, proper CPR, heart attacks and more. Scanner Radio
– Available to both law enforcement officials and consumers for as low as $2.99, this app allows users to listen in on over 2,000 police and fire scanners, railroad communications and weather radio broadcasts in numerous locations.
That forthcoming broadband capability is going to make the vehicle more portable and versatile and it is up to public safety software vendors to create devices that support that level of communications, Vaughan said. It will allow officers to have a virtual office not just in their vehicles but on their handheld device with enhanced capabilities in voice data and video dispatch.
Many of these apps will likely be adapted for public safety usage, Vaughan added. Many jurisdictions are now using apps readily available to any consumer but more public safety information providers are scrambling to create public safety-specific apps for their targeted audience. Over time, these apps may mimic the full-scale software versions that reside on complete departmental systems. “One of the challenges you have is that there is a desire of video records that is in excess of what has been used in the past and now we have to decide what and how this information is being gathered,” Vaughan said.
As these devices and networks converge, the process of using apps in conjunction with other technology will be further streamlined. Vaughan used the example of consumers being able to listen to radio shows on their mobile phones as an example of where this data convergence is heading. “It’s happening for voice, push-to-talk, narrow bands and broadband and for video,” he said.
It should be noted that using many of these apps drain battery power. Officers should also have a backup plan in place to keep the phone recharged in the car or remotely at their desk to ensure phone power.
But provided power is available, so are a wealth of functional assistance that can increase safety, improve efficiency and reporting and provide police officers with legal information and proof to back up their statements. “These are mini-computers with a lot of functionality,” Lewis said. “If you know where to look you can download almost any need you may have.”