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December 10, 2013
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Tim Dees Police Tech & Gear
with Tim Dees

4 helpful police smartphone apps for Android

Android is a friendlier platform for developers, so you get a wide variety of applications

The iPhone may be the better-known brand, but Android smartphones are more common, with more than half of the market share. Android, a product of Google, is not controlled as tightly as the Apple iOS, which arguably makes for a friendlier environment for device makers and developers.

As with iOS, there are lots of “police” applications, but most of them are databases of jokes, access programs for police radio/scanner feeds, or emergency light and siren simulators. Standing out from the crowd are a few apps that can be useful for working cops. 

FlashFace is the smartphone or tablet application for making facial composites from witness descriptions. 

In my day, when badge numbers were in Roman numerals, facial composites were constructed with plastic “foils” from an IdentiKit, which was a Smith and Wesson product. The investigator would assemble a face from images of head shapes, noses, mouths, eyes and so on, stacking the clear plastic sheets containing the images until the face was formed. 

Some cops had a great knack for this, and could produce faces that were eerily similar to those of the actual suspect. Larger agencies had trained sketch artists on call, but there were and are pretty rare. 

With FlashFace, you choose the various facial features from a sliding menu that appears below the main screen window. Each feature can be moved and re-sized individually (something difficult or impossible with the IdentiKit foils). The completed composite looks like a pencil sketch. 

Once complete, the composite is saved as an image file and can be printed or emailed as necessary. The only limit to how many image files you can store is the memory on your device. 

The IdentiKits were leased or purchased for several hundred dollars, a big ticket item in the 1970s and 1980s. FlashFace is $4.00 for the premium version, so it’s an excellent value even if you use it only occasionally. 

CopApp! Calendar Schedule is a $1.99 application to track complex rotating shift schedules. It works for people who use a schedule of five days on, two days off, then five days on, three days off, or four days on, two days off. These schedules make it very difficult to predict when an individual will have a specific day off, with the prediction getting more complex as the time extends into the future. 

Once set, the calendar shows which days are worked and which are scheduled for days off as far away as you choose. Most departments change schedules periodically — say, every six months or so — and determinations can’t be made if you don’t know what your schedule will be past any particular date. 

The app shows the work schedule for multiple squads or teams, so users can also see when any two individuals or work units will have the same days worked or off. 

An alternative and possibly more versatile schedule app is Police Scheduler. Police Scheduler is a variant of a similar app developed for the fire service, although we’ll try not to hold that against them (just speak slowly and don’t use any big words). Police Scheduler says it can plot out any schedule so long as it has a repeating pattern, which most of them do. 

The app also allows for flagging of special events, like comp time or vacation usage, in-service training, or court, and has an option to export the schedule to Google Calendar. Doing so and then sharing the calendar with other users would make the schedule accessible to family members or friends. A summary feature allows for tracking of comp time, vacation hours, and available sick leave, among other totals.  The app lists for $5.99.

Finally, The Cop App is a report-writing aid. Users enter information such as times, dates, locations, names, freeform notes, etc. into fields, and the app organizes them by case. Photos and audio recordings (limited to 60 seconds) can also be appended to the case file. When completed, the file can be emailed as a PDF or just stored in “the cloud.” 

Segments or entire reports can be removed from the program and exported elsewhere or deleted, if desired. The developer says this is to keep the information from being subpoenaed, but this might not work too well as a practical matter. Check with your prosecutor’s office before you rely on this method. The Cop App sells for $4.99.  

One more word of caution about smartphone use: Your phone could get subpoenaed, giving someone access to every personal address, email, website URL and photo on your phone. Consider having one phone for work and another for personal use. 

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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