Smartphones as data terminals

Can you make your smartphone as secure as the computer in your squad?


How great would it be to have access to the same criminal justice databases (vehicle and drivers license records, wanted persons files, etc.) on you smartphone that you have with the mobile computers in your squad cars? Pretty great, right? It’s certainly possible to implement this, and it’s done on some platforms like the PDAs used for some e-Citation systems, which don’t usually have telephone capabilities. The problem is one of security.

Smartphones are too easily mislaid, and too easy too ‘hack.’ If a bad guy was to pick up a database-enabled smartphone left on a coffee shop table by a distracted officer, or could wirelessly tap into the phone’s connection to the database, the entire system could be compromised. Chances are your smartphone holds confidential, sensitive information such as phone and address listings for your fellow officers, credit card numbers, pictures of your loved ones, and other details crooks would like to get.

Is your phone password protected, or can anyone who picks it up start using it? Yes, it’s a nuisance to key in that password every time you pick up the phone. Get over it, and take an extra five seconds to protect your friends and family (no pun or reference to a certain carrier’s calling plan intended). For more on password protecting your smartphone, check out this article from PoliceOne Tech Help Correspondent John Rivera.

Cook Your Own
A request we’ve seen from multiple officers is for applications that hold a state’s criminal laws, checklists, Miranda and implied consent warnings, as well as other information that most cops carry in books or on laminated cards in their pockets. These are available here and there, but it’s reasonably easy to create your own reference sources from native applications or inexpensive third-party apps.

For instance, just about every state has their laws posted online. You don’t need most of the text — just the criminal codes you’re concerned with will do. Start with a spreadsheet (Excel or something similar) on your desktop or laptop computer, and think about how you want that information organized. Major categories might be procedures and classifications of crimes, crimes against persons, crimes against property, sex offenses, weapons-related offenses, traffic laws, and so on. Each statute could have three parts: its number, its name, and the text of the offense.

On separate worksheets in Excel for each major category, you create a listing of the statutes you want to have with you, like this:

Crimes Against Persons

 ABC
1

Number

TitleText
2 100Murder

The unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought is murder in the first degree.

3 110Assault

The attempt to commit battery on the person of another...

...and so on. Copy the text from the online version of your state’s criminal code and paste it into the cells in your spreadsheet.

When you’re done, save each worksheet in either comma-delimited or tab-delimited text. The option to do this is hidden beneath this option that you might not have seen before:

The file will have an extension of *.csv. Import this (and the other similar files you create for each major category) into a simple database application. There are lots of them out there. I have an iPhone, and I like MyStuff, which has a Lite version you can try for free. You’ll probably have to play around with it a bit to get it the way you want, but you’ll wind up with a convenient and well-ordered list of statutes or anything else you like to keep track of. Not being on the street anymore, I use it to track the DVDs I own and make sure I don’t buy one I already have in my collection. You could use the same application to create databases of gang members, complete with photos you can take with the smartphone camera.

For the cheat sheet info you have on laminated cards (Miranda warning, implied consent, checklists, etc.), put each item in a separate note in whatever native Notes app you have on your device. They all have one. Make the first line the title of the note, and you’ll have a list of all those details you can update or revise as you choose.

Get creative with these devices, and make them work for you.

About the author

Tim Dees is a retired police officer and criminal justice professor. He has been writing on criminal justice technology issues for virtually every U.S. police publication and commercial website since 1988. Tim holds a bachelor’s degree in biological science from San José State University, and a master’s degree in criminal justice from The University of Alabama. He serves on the executive board of the Public Safety Writers Association.

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

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