The best managers today are forward-thinking leaders who look for opportunities to provide their people with the right tools and direction to get the most out of them. Police chiefs and administrators are no different. They face a monumental task in keeping up with the challenges that their agencies contend with today. Nonetheless, these leaders are increasingly realizing the value of technology and how it is affecting the law enforcement community in profound ways.
Mobile technology is rapidly taking shape as one of the most valuable new tools in law enforcement. Agencies are beginning to embrace tablets and smartphones as they recognize the utility and functionality that these portable handheld devices bring. While laptops in patrol cars were once the latest and greatest in law enforcement technology, their effectiveness ends once an officer exits the cruiser. Handheld technologies are now overcoming the limitations of in-car terminals. They can be quickly deployed and carried anywhere an officer goes.
These devices bring a portable approach towards field data collection and record keeping, quick access to vehicle records, and ability to securely receive and share sensitive information without delay. Officers can document an incident, record witness statements, retrieve information, fill out forms, scan IDs and quickly perform other tasks that could not previously be done outside of a cruiser.
In 2015, two-year-old Rainn Peterson disappeared from her Ohio home which triggered a massive manhunt with hundreds of law enforcement, emergency responders and volunteers. Fortunately, the search ended well when she was found alive two days later in a field less than a mile from her home.
We hear of many similar stories like this every year. In each instance, dozens, if not hundreds of law enforcement officials are often involved. If we consider the value of real-time awareness and ability to rapidly disseminate new information to your officers in any evolving situation, then we can see how mobile connected devices such as a phone or tablet can serve as a key officer safety and situational awareness tool from virtually anywhere.
For example, in a search for a missing person or manhunt for a wanted suspect, new photographs, statements and updated information could easily be sent to the device to update your officers in the field. Applications like Google Earth or Street View can be used to get a layout of an incident area to better deploy your officers and set up perimeters. And social media monitoring can provide your agency with a wealth of real-time information and intelligence during any volatile situation.
USE OF PERSONAL DEVICES
With the wealth of features found in today’s tablets and smartphones, law enforcement now view them as one of the most valuable tools to have in the field. Whether connecting with dispatch or other officers, or conducting investigations, handheld devices and police-centric apps are playing a crucial role in officers’ efficiency on patrol.
However, like any other law enforcement technology, we must be careful to consider the fallout if used improperly. While it is convenient or even cost effective to tacitly allow or even encourage your agency to use their personal devices to access, gather and send criminal justice information, their personal device isn’t the most secure and likely would not fulfill the established legal requirements for accessing databases.
Additionally, officers who utilize their personal phones for digital evidence collection and other duty-related tasks, are opening their phones up to legal discovery of everything on the phone and may even subject their device to seizure as evidence. The lack of systematic controls and security could lead to dismissal of evidence or worse; the discovery of private information, personal messages, emails, or social media posts on the device may be embarrassing and damaging to the reputation of the officer and your agency.
As a leader, you are always examining more effective and efficient ways for your officers to perform their duties. Technological advances such as mobile handheld devices should not be overlooked. They can provide the means for your agency to be more productive and perform better, which in turn reflect well upon you.