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June 20, 2011
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Tim Dees Police Tech & Gear
with Tim Dees

3 great police iPhone apps

Run records checks, translate voice and text, generate floor plans with your smartphone

Since smartphones such as the iPhone, BlackBerry and the various models running the Android operating system carry as much computing power as a desktop machine of a few years ago, the applications or “apps” written for them are powerful, as well. New and improved apps can give you capabilities on the street you never had before.

LexisNexis Accurint
Criminal justice databases give law enforcement officers access to criminal history and wants information, but often lag behind on information such as current residence, employment, and financial transaction data. That’s where public records data can fill in the gap. LexisNexis’ Accurint product is used by many law enforcement agencies to help locate and track bad guys who try and fly under the radar of the criminal justice system. Subscribers to this service can now access the database through an app for the iPhone and BlackBerry platforms.

Officers can locate people and businesses, identify associations and generate comprehensive reports from their smartphones, where this capability was previously available only on a desktop machine. The app is free to Accurint subscribers, and there is no extra cost to access the system via a smartphone.

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Write & Say and Google Translate
There are several foreign language phrasebook and translation apps, most of which confine the user to a set of pre-programmed sentences optimized for travel, business, law enforcement, etc. Those are occasionally useful, but they aren’t much help when you have someone telling you something you can’t understand, or when your need to tell them something falls outside one of the canned passages.

Google Translate is a free application that performs many of the same functions its corresponding web service handles. Take a passage of text and paste it into the app’s window, choose the language of the text, then choose the language you want it translated into. Poof, the translation appears before your eyes.

The smartphone app adds an additional feature that’s helpful if you have someone who is saying, rather than writing down, something you need to understand: voice input. Choose one of 15 languages as the input tongue, then click on the microphone icon and speak the phrase you wish translated. The app records the sound, sends it off to Google’s servers for analysis and translation, then spits it back to you in written text on the smartphone display, translated into the output language of your choice.

The settings in the app refine the voice input language for Australian, Canadian, Indian (the kind from India, not Native Americans), South African, British or American dialects of English, Cantonese, Mandarin or Taiwanese variants of Chinese, and Argentinian, Latin American, Mexican or Spanish (as in “from Spain”) variants of Spanish. If you’re not sure what language your input text is in, there is a “Detect language” option.

Write & Say is a little more versatile. This app will accept written text input in 29 languages (although some of them are dialects, e.g. Australian English vs. U.S. English) and will translate into 21. The output language appears on the display in the character set appropriate for that language (Chinese characters for Chinese, Cyrillic for Russian, etc.), and an onscreen button will cause the app to speak the translation in one of several user-selectable voices. The app will accept entire documents or web pages for translation or to be read aloud in the native language or in a translation. You can save a translated voice passage as an MP3, copy text into another application, or email text directly from the app.

Magic Plan
Magic Plan is an app designed to produce quick floor plans of interiors. When I was playing with it to produce a floor plan of my home’s “great room,” it occurred to me this would be useful for producing diagrams of crime scenes. The app uses the smartphone’s camera and some superimposed dimension lines to record a room’s corners, doorways, windows and openings. You stand in the middle of the room and point the camera at each feature’s boundaries, clicking an onscreen button when intersecting lines are over the corner shown on the display. You go around the room, recording each corner and doorway, then close the loop by re-recording the first corner.

The resulting floor plan is refined by measuring one or more wall segments and tapping the length into the app. Additional rooms are mapped out the same way, and then linked to the first one by dragging the new room plan into the appropriate position. You can export files as PDFs, JPEGs, or in DXF format. Without a paid ($4.95 per plan, with a monthly multi-plan option) subscription, the output plans have a watermark. I can see the utility of being able to produce an accurate plan at the scene, then tracing it onto another sheet when creating the crime scene diagram.

Google Translate and Magic Plan are free; Write & Say is $4.99. Write & Say and Magic Plan are available for the iPhone and iPad. Google Translate is available on iPhone, iPad, and Android.

About the author

Tim Dees is a writer, editor, trainer, and former law enforcement officer. After 15 years as a police officer with the Reno Police Department and elsewhere in Northern Nevada, Tim taught criminal justice as a full-time professor and instructor at colleges in Wisconsin, West Virginia, Georgia, and Oregon.

He was also a regional training coordinator for the Oregon Dept. of Public Safety Standards & Training, providing in-service training to 65 criminal justice agencies in central and eastern Oregon.

Tim has written more than 300 articles for nearly every national law enforcement publication in the United States, and is the author of The Truth About Cops, published by Hyperink Press. In 2005, Tim became the first editor-in-chief for Officer.com, moving to the same position for LawOfficer.com at the beginning of 2008. He now writes on applications of technology in law enforcement from his home in SE Washington state.

Tim holds a bachelor’s degree in biological science from San José State University, a master’s degree in criminal justice from The University of Alabama, and the Certified Protection Professional credential from ASIS International. He serves on the executive board of the Public Safety Writers Association.

Dees can be reached at tim.dees@policeone.com.

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