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How cops can stay connected with apps and wearables

Consider mobile devices like tablets, smartphones and smartwatches to keep officers linked to communications centers while they're working in the field


Sponsored by Tyler Technologies

By Cindy Coleman for PoliceOne BrandFocus

Whether answering a domestic call, making a traffic stop or monitoring a festival in the park on horseback, any incident can escalate and turn dangerous within a matter of seconds. It is critical that communication travel seamlessly, without delay, from you to dispatch to the appropriate personnel when you call for backup.

GPS on a smartwatch is just one innovation that connects officers to mission-critical data. (photo/iStock)
GPS on a smartwatch is just one innovation that connects officers to mission-critical data. (photo/iStock)

“First and foremost, we try and focus on officer safety,” said Duane Kietzman, product owner for mobility for Tyler Technologies. “Traditionally, three to five years ago, when you left your patrol car with the mobile data computer (MDC) in it, you were completely disconnected. With modern devices such as a tablet, smartphone or smartwatch, you can connect back to the dispatch center in a multitude of ways.”

The days of field personnel and emergency telecommunicators just being voices at the end of a telephone line or radio are over. Tyler Technologies is developing apps that can run on consumer-grade mobile devices providing added functionality and access to mission-critical data on the spot.

Critical information right on your wrist

With advances in technology, both field law enforcement and communications center personnel can become better connected and informed about field situations through the use of apps and wearable devices. Radio or phone dispatches can be turned into alerts and notifications on smartphones and smartwatches, such as the Apple Watch and Samsung Gear S3, wherever an officer is located.  Also, the watch is an additional GPS device.  “It's nice to see where patrol cars are out in the field, but we're taking it a step beyond that,” said Kietzman. “You can now actually track the individual officers.”  

If you're on horseback or on a bicycle, even getting a phone out of your pocket can be hard to do while holding the reins or steering the bicycle. Having a smartwatch with full functionality, including dispatch, allows an officer to create calls right from the watch. For example, a reserve officer working a marathon or a football game can report a disturbance or public intoxication without having to interact with a big screen.

Increased officer safety and situational awareness

Tyler New World public safety apps paired with wearable devices open up new windows of view for personnel in the field. For instance, as an officer is walking to a vehicle during a traffic stop, his or her smartwatch can push a notification alerting him or her that it’s a stolen vehicle or provide other information that will increase the officer’s situational awareness and safety.

Because the smartwatch is cellular-enabled with GPS capabilities, should the traffic stop turn into a foot pursuit, the communications center can track the officer running through the neighborhood, jumping fences, or chasing a suspect through the woods. Having real-time access to the officers’ location is much more critical than knowing the location of the police car, which may be parked several hundred feet away. When additional responders arrive, information can be relayed out to everybody.

“Similarly, if you're a detective out in the field, traditionally, you would only be connected via your car with the MDC,” said Kietzman. “Now with your phone in your pocket, if you're doing a field interview, you could have that location relayed back to dispatch. So they know where you are, creating a much safer experience.”

In the case of a domestic call, the patrol officer walks into the house, and starts talking with the individuals at the scene. The officer may go to another room to start running drivers’ licenses and radio them back to dispatch one by one.

“Now, you can use the camera to scan the license right in front of the individuals. You don't have to walk into a separate room,” said Kietzman. “That information updates dispatch so they know the demographics of the people at the scene.”  Officers can also do searches from their phones in the field and get information on an individual’s prior criminal activity and identifiable markings such as scars or tattoos to help with identification.  

Advantages of using consumer-grade devices

By using Tyler’s apps on consumer-grade devices such as tablets, smartphones and smartwatches, officers require less training, as most already use the devices in their personal lives.  “It's not new hardware that we have to field test,” said Kietzman. “These products have been on the market for quite a while.”

As departments look to cut costs and save money, these technologically-advanced wearable devices cost a few hundred dollars compared to a few thousand dollars for a laptop in a patrol car or radio. As apps are integrated and interfaced with different devices, departments may also choose the device best-suited to a particular officer and his or her role within the department.

Empowering the officer to do more

Tyler New World apps enable officers to do more without tying up radio traffic. Officers can enter searches, update call information and do other tasks on their own from the scene. “We have Siri capability in our apps, so if they want to update or add narrative or call notes, they can do that using Siri,” said Kietzman. “Empowering the officer to do more improves officer and overall department efficiency.”

Some agencies may also be in the middle of a buying cycle in which police officers are expected to retain their laptops for several years. Adding a smartphone or smartwatch to the laptop already in an officer’s patrol car can be done affordably and easily. The phone or watch will integrate seamlessly into the Tyler public safety ecosystem so the same data translates easily between devices and the user doesn’t feel a difference in experience.

The app also improves efficiency. The scan of a driver’s license on one device automatically transfers the data to a shared database so officers do not have to retype and repeat data entry. 

Role-specific apps that are user friendly

Technological advances in infrastructure allow devices to connect into the Tyler New World public safety system through any internet-connected device. As law enforcement personnel setup and customize their tablets, smartphones and watches, Tyler is tailoring its apps to the users in the field. 

“If you think about modern mobile apps, your phone knows a lot of information about you, which creates a very powerful and seamless user experience,” said Kietzman. “Tyler is doing the same – building apps that can be tailored and designed for the person who is using it, whether a traffic officer or department supervisor.”

Police officers increasingly expect to have the same access to information and functionality like GPS, driver’s license scanning and input, uploading video and photos, voice recognition, notifications and dispatch regardless of what device they are using.  Apps and wearable devices like smartwatches are generating buzz within the law enforcement community as departments explore how to better meet the needs of officers in the field and the citizens they serve.

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