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Public safety agencies working "smarter" with smartphones

Written by Jennifer Gavigan

Wireless mobility is changing the way we communicate. There’s no denying the popularity of smartphones among mobile phone users today. According to a study by ComScore, more than 45.5 million people in the United States owned smartphones in 2010 out of 234 million total subscribers. Many public safety agencies are now using them to increase efficiency among our nation’s first responders.

Basically, a smartphone is a mobile phone that offers more advanced computing ability and connectivity than a basic feature phone. Smartphones may be thought of as handheld computers integrated with a mobile telephone, allowing the user to install and run more advanced applications. Smartphones run complete operating system software providing a platform for application developers.

Law enforcement, emergency management and a range of other government entities are being integrated with wireless capabilities that enhance productivity, accuracy and effectiveness. Research In Motion (RIM), maker of the BlackBerry®, has been a major player in the smartphone industry for years. Pairing with RIM to make services available to law enforcement and other government users, network provider Sprint has brought to the table its support infrastructure as well.

BlackBerry solutions, along with third-party applications on BlackBerry smartphones, allow agencies to query criminal databases and updated suspect photos; receive dispatch information and incident reports; improve collaboration and communication in a crisis situation; use Global Positioning System (GPS) and locationbased services to track movement of supplies and people; and more.

Apple’s iPhone is proving to be a formidable force in smartphones, especially with all the available apps. After Haiti’s massive earthquake, a man trapped in rubble turned to an iPhone app for medical guidance that proved instrumental in his survival. The iPad is also gaining popularity among first responders because law enforcement applications for the iPhone should be able to directly port to the new iPad.

The App CopLogger gives users a pocket-sized version of mobile computing terminals (MCT) found in police vehicles. The mini-MCT replicates many of the features including tracking calls from start to finish. CrimeReports maps out crime data and sex offender lists from 700 law enforcement agencies in real time. Its current service area covers 20 percent of the U.S. population, and 50 new agencies are signing on each month to share crime reports.

iSpotACrime is a free crime-fighting tool that empowers citizens to gather information as they witness a crime. It allows witnesses to take a picture, type in a description and location, as well as add voice commentary to a report. The report is filed by a click of a button, which e-mails it to the nearest police station. Users can even hit a panic button that automatically dials 9-1-1. If an officer spots a suspicious individual, he can search intelligence from both the FBI and U.S. Marshals with the “FBI Most Wanted” app. In addition, Google Goggles is a visual search engine that officers in Vice can use to identify pills.

In this issue, we talk about the latest in 4G technology, and smartphones’ role in how first responders communicate wirelessly out in the field (page 28). Also, read about how officers are using videoconferencing on smartphones to file police reports (page 22).

Applications created for and about law enforcement can no doubt make life easier for police officers. All public safety organizations are under pressure to improve responsiveness and service to the public on a tight budget. When officers have immediate access to critical information on smartphones, this saves time, money and lives. The capabilities of today’s smartphones will surely increase as technology advances, so let’s make use of these mobile devices by working “smarter.”

Published in Public Safety IT, Jan/Feb 2011

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