The digital past, present and future: police smartphones, tablets and laptops

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“We’d write it down—the call history, the text messages—we really didn’t put a whole bunch of emphasis on…the data from cellphones because we (thought) we’d interview them and they’d tell us what we wanted to know. But my last few years with the police department, it progressed to where I had a case (in which) I ended up downloading and getting all of their contacts and (other data)…and all of a sudden everyone across the state is sending me their mobile devices,” Reiber says. The results: he found text messages from suspects admitting to the crimes with which they were charged.

“Thumb jockeying—just going through their phones—has now given way to using some software from Best Buy to today, recovering file systems, documents, spread sheets, photos, you name it,” he says.

Because the mobile devices criminals use are more sophisticated today, law enforcement finds it even more important to stay ahead of them. Instead of ordinary smartphones, tablets and laptops, today’s mobile computerized devices have to be adaptable to law enforcement demands and be twice as rugged as the equipment available to civilians.

But Reiber says the biggest challenge that’s faced law enforcement in adapting technology to its use is what he calls the “four-letter word in forensics:” time.

“Who has time to sit down and examine 64 gigabytes of information on an iPad?” he asks. Instead, police need computers that can sift the wheat from the chaff and do it for them, which is how many of the apps under development currently work.

“The tools have to focus upon, ‘How quickly can I get the information I need? With a mobile device we have to focus on what we think law enforcement and people who examine physical evidence need now,” he says. Reiber says the technology is already in that wheelhouse.

First responders can now pull information from mobile devices in the field, giving police a quick start in investigations. Digital fingerprints ensure for the courts that evidence pulled off devices for evidentiary purposes will withstand scrutiny for integrity. He likens it to putting the evidence into a “forensic container” that can be opened years down the road during court proceedings.

On the dash

Dashboard iPads have moved into real time. JackBe Presto allows users to create dashboards that run on an iPad or tablet showing local crime incidents by location. “Historical data, residing in databases in data warehouses, has long been mined for patterns of incidents that might suggest future incidents and specific events where they might happen,” says John Crupi, CTO of JackBe. He uses the example of mining social media for formation of a flash mob.

“Detecting a 50-percent increase in the occurrence of the word ‘flash mob’ in the last five minutes coming from a one-mile radius around a specific location…is an indicator that a real flash mob is forming. This kind of real-time, descriptive intelligence gives law enforcement leverage to determine response before a situation develops—in this case, before the flash mob even forms,” says Crupi.

Xplore Technologies manufactures a tablet that’s both touch and stylus sensitive, with a price range of $3,900 to $5,500, with a sunlight sensitive screen. Like most models built for law enforcement use, it’s more rugged than the average tablet, built to withstand moderate drops on hard surfaces, with a long-lasting battery and adaptive to use in hazardous locations. Indications are that tablets will become standardized equipment for cops in the future, so expect growing emphasis from companies like Xplore, JackBe and others on acclimating this technology for portability, as well as durability.

Long-range use

Chriss Knisley, computer giant IBM’s Smarter Cities’ manager, says its computer systems are focusing on pulling together disparate information systems and integrating them in one place so law enforcement can access them from one consolidated format.

Knisley says officers generally access between 16 and 30 different databases in the course of a routine investigation. The goal, as he sees it, is to aggregate all of that information and make it more efficient for the investigating officer. He points to the NYPD as one of the most adept at putting computers to work.

“NYPD has a real-time crime center…that makes available 120 million records (from) their internal databases off of their mobile devices now,” he says. He also says that the Memphis Police Dept. has used their computer systems to aid in predictive analysis with the results that they’ve had a 30-percent drop in crime over a four-year period, which includes a 15-percent drop in violent crime.

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