The era of the “dumb” phone is passing — if not already past. In 2012, every third person (not just every third cellphone user!) owned a smartphone. People expect far more from their phones than just the ability to make calls.
Apple’s iPhone has the single largest share of the market, but it has lost considerable ground to other platforms. The greatest gain has been from makers using the Android operating system. That sector growth is spread out over many companies, as Android does not enjoy the same hardware monopoly that Apple has.
This column will focus on smartphone apps for the iOS (Apple iPhone) platform. I’ll review Android apps in a separate article.
Search for apps in the iTunes Store with “police” as a keyword, and most of the results returned will be games, radio scanner apps, systems to warn motorists of speed traps, and sound and light generators to mimic emergency lights and sirens. Of the apps written for use by law enforcement officers, here are some of those I found to be the best balance of functionality and price.
Police Spanish Guide by Mavro, Inc. is a list of commonly used phrases and questions in Spanish, indexed by setting or situation. There are categories for basic interview, traffic stops, lost child investigations, booking, and so on. Getting to the question you want to ask involves only a few taps, and tapping on the question itself plays back the spoken version in a distinct female voice that pauses between each word for clarity.
The questions are worded so that the answer is likely to be comprehensible to a non-Spanish speaker. When possible, they are phrased to elicit a response of “yes” or “no,” or the specific information desired, such as date of birth. Frequently used sections can be bookmarked for ready access, and there is a flashcard feature in the paid version to allow users to practice and learn the phrases on their own.
The basic version, which has voiced translations for three categories, is free. The full version is $2.99, which provides access to 13 categories of phrases and the flashcard feature.
US Cop is a Swiss Army knife of police-oriented applications and references. Most of the applications are just adaptations of the functions included in iOS. For example, the choice for “Shift Schedule” opens the iOS calendar and offers to post a new event, using the standard iOS interface (actually, the old iOS v. 6.x interface, as it acquired a different look and feel under iOS 7). “My Notepad” is a free-form notebook that time-and-date-stamps every entry and has a button to email it to the address of your choosing.
The “Traffic” tab is a large index of references, ranging from a VIN character decoder to a list of SCOTUS decisions governing aspects of traffic stops. That last one would be really handy the next time a violator challenges your authority to keep him or his passengers in his car or order him out of it (Pennsylvania v. Mimms and Maryland v. Wilson, if you’re interested).
A couple of the items under the “Traffic” tab take the user to an external website without warning. If you didn’t happen to have Internet connectivity when you tapped that option, you wouldn’t go anyplace. Getting back to the app from the web browser involves the same process as switching between any other apps. You push the Home button twice quickly, and choose between the recently run apps that display at the bottom of the screen. It works, but it’s inelegant.
US Cop sells for $3.99, and there’s no free preview. Despite its shortcomings, I think this is a great value. The app is well-organized and the information it contains will be useful to just about any cop sooner or later.
Another $3.99 app that isn’t designed specifically for cops, but that I think is still useful, is OnSite Time Tracker. OnSite logs the time and date the phone arrives at and departs from any number of sites entered by the user.
I used to have difficulty remembering when I arrived at and departed the courthouse when I had to make an appearance when off duty. Later in the day, I’d have to enter the times on my time card in order to get paid, and I’d almost never remember the precise times. With OnSite Time Tracker, I could log and label the courthouse location, and the app would note every time I carried my phone near the place. It runs in the background, and once you enter a geolocation, it uses the phone’s GPS function to note each visit.
One word of caution about smartphone use: Be wary of what information you carry on a smartphone used for law enforcement work. Your phone could get subpoenaed, and the attorney receiving the data dump would have access to every personal address, email, website URL and photo carried on the phone. That alone is enough for you to consider having one phone for work and another for personal use.