Mobile information sharing for law enforcement
One of the most common requests among cops is to have access to the same databases on their smartphones as they have on their squad computers. While there are some very serious security considerations — check out the excellent article by Tim Dees on that issue — one company has begun to deliver exactly this solution to police. MindTouch, based in San Diego, Calif., has been serving the business community with a technology solution for this type of information sharing to mobile devices for a number of years, and is just now entering the law enforcement market.
MindTouch seeks to provide “Wiki-like ease-of-collaboration between humans and machines” according to the company’s website. The idea is to enable those of us who are not among the technology-savvy group of computer users to access the same information. Although the solution has a clean, simple, Wiki-like interface, it’s actually a very comprehensive database working behind the scenes to give people access to a robust, evolving knowledge-base.
In geek-speak, MindTouch offers a web-oriented architecture underlying framework that allows an enterprise — in this case, the PD — to integrate various silos of information, working across different types of systems and cross organizations, and expose that data in a meaningful way to end users. What does that mean? Well, we spoke with Mark Fidelman, Executive Vice President of Sales, and Corey Ganser, Customer Support Manager for MindTouch, to get a better sense of the offering.
Ease of Use
“The number one thing to know is that it’s very simple for law enforcement to contribute and consume information within our environment,” says Fidelman. “It’s also very easy to expose data from CAD systems, for example, in a graphical way — or any way you want to really. Those are the top two use cases for the solution. If you want to put it on a mobile device it’s easy with MindTouch. The challenge you’ll find is that there are a lot of agencies are not giving out smart phones to their officers yet.”
Ganser adds, “On the simplest basis, we have a Wiki-like interface, as far as accessing and editing information, which makes it more powerful for officers to use. But underlying that is a platform — as far as aggregating information together and exposing it — with an interface that supports pretty much any major browser on a mobile phone. We have compatibility on Andriod, on iPhone, on Palms, and we support some BlackBerry phones depending on the sophistication of the browser. We’re working on adding compatibility for more BlackBerries.”
Here’s how it works: MindTouch has a “skin” that exposes all the information stored in the database back at the PD (this could be the CAD system or some other type of knowledgebase) to the smartphone, therefore giving officers have real-time mobile access through the most commonly used mobile browsers. MindTouch says that by using this application, officers can then navigate through all sorts of data, add comments, as well as email and share information from phone-to-phone with other officers.
Anything that’s available through the MindTouch user interface on a secure computer system at the PD or in the squad car — graphs, charts, additional information that’s being exposed on a secure system — is delivered through the mobile skin to a smartphone in the hands of police officers.
“Maybe it’s the top five most stolen cars — maybe it’s the five cars stolen in the past 24 hours — any kind of report that’s being driven from the CAD system can be pushed out thru that phone,” says Fidelman. Essentially, everything from roll call items to real-time alerts about wanted suspects can be made available to the smartphone via MindTouch.
MindTouch for Law Enforcement
With customers such as the U.S. Army, Harvanrd, NASA, Timberland, Siemens, Microsoft, and Cisco, it’s really no wonder that MindTouch is beginning to offer its solution to cops. Already, the Santa Ana Police Department in Southern California has deployed the solution — cleverly named “WikiPDa” — to improve the integration of its various information databases, and deliver that intel to cops on the street.
The Santa Ana Police Department — led by Officer Boris Duran, who serves as the technology specialist for the PD — wanted a technology solution that could eventually serve as a knowledge base to serve officers at stations, satellite offices, and in police cruisers. The problem Duran was seeking to solve is one that’s familiar to just about every agency in the country: Officers serve different roles and functions, working in a wide range of physical locations, all at various shifts within the day. Information was not getting to the right people, at the right time, to maximize the department’s effectiveness.
Just as this article was ‘going to press,’ we had the opportunity to connect briefly via phone with Aaron Fulkerson, CEO of MindTouch, who put it this way: “There are some really smart, smart people over there at the Santa Ana Police Department. They really have been champions for something that clearly is going to have ramifications throughout law enforcement. They see this — and I see it too —as really revolutionizing how they capture and share intelligence. Based on what Santa Ana has done, there are a significant number of agencies — nationally and even internationally — that have shown an interest in this.”
Fulkerson concludes, “What we’ve seen is a lot of traction this month because the June budgets are wrapping up — we’re working with a lot of agencies right now that are closing out that budget year. I would encourage agencies to get in touch with us, because they’ll be surprised at how inexpensive our software is, relative to what they’re accustomed to paying for software.”
Agencies and officers interested in more information about MindTouch can simply send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.