Going mobile

How mobile devices, surveillance tools and apps have changed the beat of community patrol


     Another facet of community policing that has changed since officers struck out to find the nearest phone booth is simply a better team approach among departments. Over the years, Vacaville PD has used a COMSTAT model of community policing, in which they hold weekly meetings to identify crime issues or patterns, and adjust patrol strategies accordingly. The meetings involve not just patrol, but the investigations sergeant, traffic sergeant, youth service sergeant dispatchers, and others. "We try to make a plan to address an issue if we identify one … it's a team approach," says Denton.

Bundling high-tech apps

     To go one step further than planning, portable handhelds and surveillance video, things like video, GPS data and instant messages can now be streamlined into one concise package using mobile mesh networks. The hope in utilizing these networks is that agencies can communicate, strategize and watch in real time, on the streets, even when infrastructures are down or bandwidth is lacking.

     Det. Sgt. Sherman Hall with the Atherton (Calif.) PD plans to implement this type of mobile mesh solution in the coming months. His department will install innovative IT cameras to help monitor residents' alarms and supplement existing cameras. The Atherton jurisdiction consists of a number of higher-end residences that already have some form of video surveillance deployed. But Hall says his agency always struggled with its infrastructure — how to get the video from the residences back to the agency; then potentially into its patrol cars.

     Mobile networks like AWARE, developed at SRI International, let officers communicate better with each other and the department, and also provide the capability to share live video feeds, GPS data location and other tactical information between responding agencies and their remote headquarters. This system was first developed by the military to set up a network system in a battlefield environment, or disaster setting where no infrastructure exists. All information sharing can be done on an independent network and happens between users.

     For Atherton PD, it means patrol cars can be superimposed on a map as they drive around … and in the meantime, other users can write on that map, like one would use a whiteboard; or send instant messages back and forth between cars while an incident is unfolding.

     "At a high school incident a commander can see where his cars are, he can send instant messages to officers about closing an intersection and draw a line on the map … if they're in range of a camera system they can pull that camera up and look at it because it's sensitive to the location on the map," says Hall. And then there's also the ability to provide live video from the cars, which, Hall claims "is the brass rings of officer safety."

     With AWARE, there's no reliance on external infrastructure; meaning the system does not need a cell tower, Wi-Fi hotspot, or Internet connection to work. Police vehicles can securely share information between each other on the scene when they're within range of each other — this is especially beneficial in disaster scenarios like hurricanes. When communications infrastructure is available, AWARE securely connects officers to dispatch over these networks to provide streaming video and data on demand. Using these tools allow agencies to better strategize, organize and plan on the spot.

     Chris Lockett, SRI Direct Technology general manager, says agencies that seek out systems like AWARE are usually looking for "a standards compliant, independent network, the ability to cover certain hot spots and a cost effective way to leverage their existing resources. They want officers to be able to view video and data while they're out in the city looking around."

     Agencies from neighboring jurisdictions can tie into other agencies with the network, and security is tight; everybody within the network is a trusted agent. Lockett also adds the company is currently integrating Smartphones with the AWARE system.

Tech boosts human exchange

     "I think when you start looking at how technology helps an agency become more productive, it's not so much about keeping them on the street, although that's important. You start looking at the force multiplier," says Hall. Systems like AWARE serve as excellent backup as well as an additional resource for officers. But they're certainly not the only option for increasing surveillance, awareness and communication within a community.

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