10-43: Be Advised...
with Doug Wyllie, PoliceOne Editor in Chief
Police software advancements come in all shapes and sizes
Advances in software are being rolled out faster than ever these days, and as that happens, technology’s role in law enforcement steadily evolves.
Some changes have swept the nation in the form of inexpensive (or even, at times, free) mobile applications that can be instantly downloaded, while others cost departments millions of dollars and are exclusively available to law enforcement. Let’s explore a little bit of both.
Large reservoirs of information can be hard to organize. The power of database software lies in its ability to sift through thousands of words and numbers and present information in an easily digestible way. Cops can now access many such databases by a mobile phone, placing a great deal of power, quite literally, in their hands.
One such example is being developed in Massachusetts and could revolutionize the way cops identify suspects and check their records. It’s called MORIS (Mobile Offender Recognition and Identification System), and it allows officers to gather records by simply taking a suspect’s photo using an iPhone camera.
Within seconds, the app rakes through a database in search of the suspect’s records, using only the unique features of the face, like the iris of the eyes. If the suspect’s photo is in the database, his/her information can be pulled up instantly by the officer. A video of the technology in action can be seen here.
Another database is MindTouch. The San Diego-based company has been in the mobile-information-sharing business for a number of years, but is just now entering the law enforcement market.
According to their website, they provide “Wiki-like ease-of-collaboration between humans and machines.” Basically, they integrate various pools of data and allow cops to transfer information digitally with great ease, again by mobile phone.
The current challenge, according to Executive Vice President of Sales Mark Fidelman, is that “a lot of agencies are not giving out smart phones to their officers yet,” which can be expected to change over time.
Other Mobile Tools
As texting grows in popularity, phones are become more than just tools for talking. Concurrently, police departments have had to find new ways to take “calls” from civilians. Tip411+ is part of that evolution.
It allows law enforcement officers to receive anonymous tips and engage in a two-way chat with tipsters. This means that a teenager who has valuable information, but might not feel inclined to call the police, can now do so with a simple and anonymous text.
Cops can also use Tip411+ to post social media content to Facebook and Twitter for easy public consumption.
As these tools demonstrate, the convenience and accessibility of smart phones are what make them so powerful. A smart phone is similar to a Swiss Army knife in that it’s like having dozens of tools in a single pocket at all times. Most phones come with GPS, audio recorders, cameras and even flashlight apps, all of which can be extremely useful in a pinch.
But, like a Swiss Army knife, the tools are often miniature, inferior versions of the real deal. For example, you’d much rather have a Maglite than an iPhone “flashlight.”
But, in a tight situation, you’d rather have that iPhone flashlight app in your pocket than be left with nothing at all.
But obviously not all software advances are pocket-sized; a massive new system being used by the LAPD is a testament to that.
The LAPD’s HYDRA training system is the only one of its kind in the U.S. HYDRA is an immersion-based, experience-building training center that can simulate nearly every conceivable disaster scenario. Scenarios pre-programmed into HYDRA include complex crime scene investigations, terrorist attacks, public disorders, and natural disasters.
“This is basically a flight simulator for police,” Sergeant Timothy Kalkus of the LAPD said. “We can feed videos into the room, newscasts, intelligence updates or briefings, replicate phone calls, police radio traffic…”
Kalkus said this could be a paradigm shift for how police management trains in the next 15-20 years. And while it’s the first HYDRA system in the U.S., he doesn’t expect it to be the last.