Speech Recognition Boosts Officer Safety, Productivity & Comfort

Oct. 15, 2018

Most police departments have two things in common: They’re short on staff and long on paperwork.

Even when they have enough budget for additional officers, many departments still struggle with recruiting. Some municipalities have even resorted to signing bonuses—up to $15,000 in the case of Farmington, N.M., for example. Officer shortage also undermines initiatives like community policing.

Paperwork exacerbates this shortage. In a recent national survey of more than 12,000 police chiefs and their command staff, 39 percent of respondents said they spent 3 to 4 hours daily on paperwork like incident reports. More than 30 percent said they spend at least a quarter of their workday at the station working on reports and other police paperwork. In short, this all adds up to lost time in communities and frustrated officers.

“This survey shows the staggering cost of administrative functions facing police departments in the U.S.,” says Ed Davis, former police commissioner of the Boston Police Department. “Today officers have two choices—complete the paperwork on the street and forfeit situational awareness, or [go] back to the station to complete reports. Each option is inefficient at best and dangerous at worst. Both options take the officer away from their main duty of maintaining public safety in the neighborhoods they serve, through visibility and interaction.”

Give officers back more time

Police chiefs know heavy documentation demands will always persist—it’s necessary to move criminal proceedings along. But they also know it’s a big problem when it drains productivity and impacts efficiency, not to mention safety.

The good news: More police reporting solutions are available today, solutions like speech recognition. Now, instead of spending hours typing up a single incident report by hand, officers can dictate that same report in a fraction of the time, simply by speaking. They can conduct common tasks like license plate lookups and stay heads up and more situationally aware, or quickly enter data into computer aided dispatch and records management systems (CAD/RMS) all by voice.

All these tasks, which once took hours to complete manually, are now being completed in minutes by speaking, freeing up officers to spend more time in the community doing what they want to do most—protecting and serving.

Hundreds of law enforcement departments are now using speech recognition, and for many, with great results. Officers are reporting that they can produce reports up to three times faster with close to 99 percent accuracy every time.

Best of all, speech recognition leverages the technologies that most departments already have in their vehicles, including mobile data terminals (MDTs), smartphones, tablets and 4G cellular. Speech recognition also has a nearly flat learning curve because everyone, including most officers, are now familiar with using virtual assistants like Siri and Alexa in their daily lives.

The benefits of using speech recognition in police reporting

With advanced features and customized language models, today’s intelligent speech recognition solutions include words and phrases commonly used by law enforcement. This means the system understands the words and context of what officers are dictating so their reports are not only created quickly, but with greater accuracy. These solutions can also be seamlessly integrated with CAD/RMS, so officers can quickly and accurately document and share mission-critical information.

The same intuitive technique applies to license plate lookups, warrant searches and a myriad of other tasks that currently require typing. In all of these examples, several benefits apply:

Greater officer safety. Instead of having their heads down, buried in their MDT, officers stay heads up while performing tasks, and can focus on their surroundings, like passengers in a stopped vehicle, or oncoming traffic.

Better ergonomics. There’s less risk of lower back, wrist and neck pain because officers are no longer twisting to type within the MDT. This isn’t a minor problem. In the aforementioned survey, 52 percent of officers said that entering and locating data in these systems takes dozens of clicks and is uncomfortable due to ergonomic issues while in their patrol vehicle.

Higher accuracy. It’s faster and more natural to capture details by speaking than by typing, and speech recognition eliminates the mistakes and omissions that may result from staring at an MDT or office PC for hours each day. Speech recognition further improves accuracy by making it easier for officers to dictate a report in the moment, when all of the details are still fresh in their mind. When officers aren’t rushing, they produce the kind of thorough, accurate reports that prosecutors need to do their jobs effectively. In fact, one Oregon Department of Justice (www.nuance.com/print-capture-and-pdf-solutions/resources/success/autostore-for-oregon-doj.html) case study highlights how prosecutors themselves increasingly rely on speech recognition software to work more efficiently and effectively.

Greater visibility. The less time officers have to spend on paperwork, the more time they have to patrol and interact with the community. In turn, increased time spent protecting their neighborhoods results in strengthened citizen trust and security.

“Our cruisers have become more technologically advanced with the addition of smart modems, laptops, iPads and iPhones, and speech recognition is a welcomed addition,” said Chief Joseph Solomon, Methuen Police Department (Mass.). “Exposure to other technology really made the switch to speech recognition easier for our officers, and we’ve see the impact on their reports in terms of accuracy and timeliness.”

Maximizing the ROI

Speech recognition solutions also support technology investments outside of vehicles. For example, they can be integrated into a department’s RMS or CAD system, as noted earlier. This integration also improves accuracy, efficiency and productivity throughout an organization by making speech recognition available to support staff, too.

When comparing speech recognition solutions, police departments should focus on ones that have proven themselves successful in other professions—like health care and financial services—but also are customized for police work. For example, when a solution’s vocabulary is trained using millions of words from real police reports and other legal documents, accuracy is high, and officers won’t waste time and lose patience repeating themselves. The ideal solution also gives police departments the ability to create or import custom word lists, like local street names and points of interest.

Departments also should scrutinize each solution’s ability to understand officers. Look for consistently high accuracy regardless of whether an officer has a heavy accent, a bad cold, or in a noisy environment.

The bottom line is that speech recognition enables short-staffed police departments to do more with less—more time in the community thanks to less paperwork, less officer safety risks due to more situational awareness and more information sharing because detectives and prosecutors spend less time waiting for officers to file reports.  

About the Author

Mark Geremia is vice president and general manager for Dragon Professional and Consumer. He oversees the product and marketing strategy for Nuance's Dragon NaturallySpeaking portfolio, the world's leading speech recognition and documentation solution for PC and Mac. Mark has held various leadership roles within the Dragon business over the last decade, and with his team continues to expand Dragon's reach across enterprise, legal, and law enforcement markets, transforming productivity and documentation accuracy for professional individuals and large organizations.     

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