We operate in an environment where mobile computing is transforming policing. All law enforcement officers know this scenario – we are out of the office on an investigation and get a prime lead that a suspect is hiding out at a safe house. The officer has two choices. Either follow up on the lead immediately. Or head back to the office to conduct a more thorough background check on the location and risk the chance the suspect will vacate.
For the most part, we all make the same decision. We head to the house not knowing who or what could be behind the door. Access to critical information while “on-the-move” has notoriously been lacking, making investigations less efficient and more dangerous. Until now.
Mobile applications are redefining the landscape and putting information in the hands of the force, wherever and whenever they need it. “We’re trying to get the mobile platform built up enough so officers don’t have to go to their workstation or go back into the car for the terminal,” said Lt. Michael Edwards of the Seattle Police Department’s (SPD) Criminal Investigations Bureau. Lt. Edwards oversees five squads of precinct detectives that handle burglary, theft, assault and juvenile cases.
Tools like LexisNexis® Accurint® for Law Enforcement have been a standard weapon in their arsenal for several years, putting more than 34 billion current public records at their fingertips. “We’ve had a tremendous number of successes and we’ve been using it for a variety of applications, from proactive intelligence to our standard investigative units,” said Lt. Edwards. But the problem was that access was static – everything was workspace and desktop based. “It was great as long as something fresh didn’t occur in the field.”
With more than 35 years of law enforcement experience under my belt, I know what he meant. Helping fellow law enforcement officers use real information in the field is why I came to LexisNexis from the California Department of Justice. So when Apple®’s iPad® first debuted, we immediately jumped on the opportunity to leverage this dynamic platform for law enforcement purposes. LexisNexis already had experience in mobile applications on the BlackBerry®, making iPad a natural extension of that work – but also something transformational.
Brooke Orendorff of the California Parole Apprehension Team was one of our first pilot cases: Earlier this year we handed her an iPad, a charger, and the new Accurint for Mobile app. Orendorff is a parole agent, tracking down violent offenders who have fled their supervision.
“Thirty days after they take off, the parole units send us the high-risk cases and we have to locate these individuals,” she said. A lot of the investigation is done before the teams deploy, but in the past they always left someone behind. “Usually I was the one left behind,” she said. Now it’s a different story. “When we’re out in the field, obviously sometimes we have different situations that come up, and we have to use the app to keep working on those leads.”
Tracking down leads has been one of the application’s greatest assets, as Lt. Edwards has seen. “One of our precinct squads right now is working on prolific burglars hitting the area,” he said. “They’re using the mobile application on that as a key piece of their case investigation.” The squad is able to move from one location and lead to the next, without stopping back at the office in between.
But mobile information means more than faster leads – it’s also meant improved safety. The more a squad knows about its surroundings, the more prepared it can be for any potential situation. Before Orendorff and her team moves in on a location, they can now plug it into the Accurint Mobile app and gain instant information on potential residents, cross referencing their files to determine criminal histories, parole status, and overall risk.
Lt. Edwards recounts a similar incident where patrol officers apprehended bank robbers with the help of the application. “Without the right information,” Lt. Edwards said, “they may have approached the suspects in a completely different way.”
The results have been encouraging. By simply having the ability to access information on the go, Lt. Edwards reports a 30–40 percent increase in the number of officers he can have in the field. “It’s reduced the overall need to be in the office,” Lt. Edwards said. “That was a very high cost for us.” And in terms of effectiveness, the Special Assignments Unit of the Criminal Investigations Bureau at SPD has tracked a 15–20 percent increase in efficiency and productivity.
The future of mobile policing is even more promising. Already, Orendorff’s parole officers are leveraging the iPad’s features to make better-informed decisions while in the field, including using Google Maps™ and other online tools. Lt. Edwards has used the tablet to access his department’s jail and database systems, and they’re frequently adding new applications. This trend toward more off-the-shelf consumer devices will soon reshape the force.
Mobile platforms like the iPad are less expensive than some of the desktop workstations, and their ability to grow is tremendous. Less than two years after the iPad launch, there are already 90,000 apps, many written for law enforcement. “Law enforcement has had a reputation for being entrenched, but we are not,” Lt. Edwards said. “We’re asserting ourselves with everything, from how we manage data, how we train, what we train; we’re pushing the tech envelope pretty hard.”
The Accurint Mobile app has been one of the first on the scene, but it’s certainly not the last. “We’re getting into a three-dimensional world with these devices,” he said. “And we’re really excited where things are going.”
Dale Ferranto is currently a Law Enforcement Business Development Specialist for LexisNexis Risk Solutions and is a retired Assistant Chief for the California Department of Justice (DOJ).