Where would we be without software?
Software is everywhere. Our vehicles utilize computer software to determine the fuel/oxygen mixture to run the engine for maximum gas mileage. Some of today’s kitchen refrigerators have touch screens installed on the door to enable the owner to create notes to send to their smart phone via an internet connection. This function would be impossible without specific software. Your ‘smartphone’ uses software to send and retrieve telephone calls and text messages. What we call ‘Apps’ are simply software programs which perform certain functions, such as enabling the user to play Angry Birds. Your typical fast food restaurant has a specialized computer software program to arrange the menus and prices. Even the cash registers at your local burger joint do more than just tally prices — they have software programs to analyze customer purchase trends and even manage ingredient inventory levels.
When you turn on your personal or work computer, you are executing the Operating System (yes, this is also software) and telling the computer to ready itself to for your many inputs to follow.
Everyone who has worked in law enforcement has worked with a variety of specialized computer software — from the “Word” and “Excel” and “PowerPoint” programs in the Microsoft (MS) Office Suite to the LEO-specific software for report writing, criminal databases, or evidence inventory management. Some software such as the above mentioned MS Office has the ability to gather and collate information from one program to another. For example you can import a spreadsheet from MS Excel into MS Access and start up a database for a specific purpose.
In Police work, we regularly use other software specifically written for developing reports, entering or conducting evidence inventory, gathering intelligence and many other types of specialized functions.
Several agencies in our area utilize an Intergraph software program to write reports and enter evidence into their perspective databases. These databases can and often are used to track crimes, property or suspects that are contacted in a neighboring agency. This information is useful because criminals are mobile and often commit similar crimes in neighboring cities that can be associated to the particular suspect.
For example, recently a computer was found in a stolen vehicle that did not have a serial number on it. On further investigation via the Intergraph software, the computer was associated in a burglary in a neighboring agency using the same report writing software and the property was subsequently returned to the owner.
This recovery and I’m sure many other similar types of recoveries have been accomplished because the involved agencies shared the same software and were able to associate the property to the victim and return property to the rightful owner.
Report-writing software depends on other software to function properly and enable the report writer to view or even print a report. Most often report writing software will either require Adobe Reader (freely available online), MS Office or Crystal Reports to fully utilize the report writing software function.
Software is accessed most often from an individual computer but some software can reside in a server thus making it available to authorized users with password via the internet. This type of access is called “Remote Desktop Services” or “Terminal Server”. This type of software enables a user to access their individual desktop remotely via Terminal Server software.
The use of “Terminal Server Software” is increasing because it allows users to access the software they need to perform their work from any computer in their office network.
Other computer software an officer may use may not be in their particular network at all but is available to view via a secured network once authorized by proper username and password. Most agencies in the Northwest (where I work) have the ability to utilize LiNX (Law Enforcement Information Exchange). This software is available to view by authorized users depending by the users region. Once the user is authorized they can query a person by name. If the named person is found the user may see that the person may have been involved in similar crimes in other jurisdictions. This information may prove valuable to an investigator.
So, you see, countless aspects of our work are directly affected by computer software in one form or another.