Municipalities have been using GIS (geographic information systems) for everything from sewer planning to garbage truck routing for quite some time now. Likewise, law enforcement agencies have leveraged both GIS and mobile computing to help target enforcement efforts and provide access to important data (such as license plate information and active warrants) in the field. The police department in Redlands, CA, however, has combined mobile computing and GIS capabilities on a surprising platform — Apple’s iOS — to improve data collection by officers, provide access to a richer set of crime and location information, and optimize patrols.
Long before the introduction of the mobile application, former Redlands police chief Jim Bueermann had already instituted a risk-focused policing program, using crime data to drive patrol placement decisions and improve community interaction. The city of Redlands, a Southern California community just ten miles from San Bernardino, uses GIS generated by Esri’s ArcGIS system in multiple city departments; the police department, in particular, leverages the Esri GIS data in CrimeView, a crime analysis and mapping tool from Esri partner The Omega Group.
With CrimeView, data from the computer-aided dispatch systems and records management system are imported into the mapping platform, allowing the police department to visualize crime activity geographically. Using this information, the department could identify hot spots that would benefit from increased patrols. “That data is used to guide patrol decisions and also to guide long-term strategic decisions in terms of where we should place officers, as well as to help us plan our budget accordingly,” says Philip Mielke, GIS supervisor for Redlands.
Vehicle-Mounted Laptops Don’t Offer Desired Visibility
Each police car was also outfitted with a rugged laptop that gave officers remote access to criminal justice applications and databases so they could run license plates and search for offender information. However, until recently, the GIS data presented by CrimeView was only available at a dedicated computer in the police station. And when it came to officers collecting information in the field, they still relied heavily on pen and paper or sometimes the computers mounted inside their vehicles.
According to Mielke, it was Bueermann who championed moving to a fully mobile, handheld platform so that officers could access the map- based crime information in the field, while at the same time automating the collection of informa- tion gathered at crime scenes and from witness interviews. With mobile phones and tablets, the officers could extend access to that GIS-based data to help make faster decisions in the field and access critical information that could help them improve their ability to investigate.
Budget cuts have reduced the number of officers on the street, from eight officers down to four or five on any given shift, and there are fewer civilian employees as well (i.e. crime scene technicians). These reductions put additional pressure on the department to more intelligently deploy officers as well. “As we faced the issues of this budget crisis, the policing paradigm became reliant on technology to help push these types of decisions out to the patrol officers,” Mielke says.
It was also Bueermann who suggested iPads and iPhones as the platform of choice for this particular project. Armed with a grant from the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), the department was able to purchase the devices and move forward with development of a suite of mobile solutions for the officers in February of 2012.
Of all the mobile phones and computers available, why the iPad and iPhone? Although the devices are wildly popular with consumers, they have faced scru- tiny regarding their role in enterprise deployments — especially deployments in demanding environments like those a police officer’s device can encounter. “We were looking for something that required less thought in the field,” Mielke says. “We believed the iPad and iPhone would be more user-friendly, and in the end that was the trade-off, since that platform is not necessarily enterprise-friendly. A BlackBerry would have probably been the easier decision in terms of marrying it to the enterprise scenario, but our previous chief just fell in love with the usability of the iPhone and iPad.”
With the iPad and iPhone, the department had an intuitive user interface that required minimal training, ample battery life, the ability to easily access GIS map views, a built-in camera, and access to a number of readily available applications that could be repurposed for law enforcement. For example, Esri partner The Omega Group and criminal justice software provider Spillman offered mobile applications built specifically for the iOS.
“One thing we were concerned about was the cost comparison,” Mielke says. “There is a reasonable potential for mobile devices to replace the computers in the vehicles. If we can replace the rugged laptops for a sixth of the cost, do we really need a ‘bulletproof’ device? Is there a way we can make everything that needs to happen in the field happen with the iPad or iPhone? We have been able to fill a majority of the officer’s needs on these devices.”
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