As the one-year mark approaches since the COVID-19 pandemic was declared, work environments haves changed dramatically across the globe due to social distancing and safety guidelines. This shift has resulted in technological advancements and heightened adoption rates of mobile solutions by police departments across the country to aide in how work gets done remotely, regardless of physical locations. But, most importantly, these shifts have brought to light the benefits of using technology to streamline workflows and improve communication so law enforcement professionals can better serve our communities now and into the future.
With new technology and mobile solutions, police officers not only find an increase in efficiency but also improved situational awareness when performing duties out in the field. This “new normal” has also created a decentralized workforce that challenges departments to leverage technology to ensure their employees are connected while working from their homes versus at police headquarters. This may include digitalizing IT infrastructure to ensuring handhelds, laptops, and tablets operate on a secure network, allowing law enforcement professionals access to the sensitive information they need, so they can accomplish administrative tasks securely while working remotely.
Although the last 12 months have accelerated digital transformation across many departments, it’s still just the beginning. With evolving technologies, such as 5G, the IoT, speech recognition, and drones, law enforcement professionals have the opportunity to increase their operational agility for years to come.
Connectivity in the Era of 5G
Connectivity facilitates real-time and more effective communications. For police officers on the front line, connectivity is their lifeline. They rely heavily on fast, uninterrupted access to critical applications and data to perform their duties — whether at the station, at home, in a vehicle, or on foot while patrolling the streets.
5G is where connectivity is headed next. It’s the fundamental evolution in wireless technology. So much of what we heard last year was the development and implementation of 5G and how this next-generation network is going to impact our lives. But how is it going to benefit the law enforcement industry?
5G is known for its high speed and low latency. When combined, these capabilities allow officers to access every aspect of their departments’ data and resources on their wireless devices.
Current 4G LTE networks struggle to provide enough bandwidth to multiple users at once due to its bandwidth spectrum and centralized network, which leads to dropped connections or poor service quality. This is detrimental for police officers, as it puts their safety, as well as the safety of others, at risk.
With 5G, network providers can deliver real-time service from the network edge instead of relying on the devices’ processing power, giving police officers more visibility and control over which data streams and devices to prioritize on the network.
Officers are able to download videos and data much faster without interruptions and gain full access to information that was previously limited. Additionally, while examining an accident or issuing a ticket in the field, 5G networks can help officers prepare and submit documentation, such as photos and videos, to expedite the filing process.
The increased connectivity that comes with 5G also enables new applications and allows offices to utilize IoT-enabled devices, such as body cameras and license plate readers, more effectively.
The Importance of FirstNet
FirstNet, a high-speed broadband communications network, is also getting 5G-ready to better service the 13,000 first responders and police officers nationwide that already subscribe to its network. This is an important communication channel that is reliable and offers dedicated airwaves for when communication is imperative during an emergency.
There are a few rugged mobile devices on the market that are FirstNet-capable. These devices typically run on an Android operating system and are equipped with 4G LTE networks. To be approved as FirstNet Ready, rugged devices have to go through rigorous testing, from security and durability to network impact.
AT&T released the push-to-talk feature for noncritical communications. The solution introduces new features and capabilities that bring fast and reliable voice communications via FirstNet’s network, allowing first responders to react to changing environments in real-time when traditional systems fail.
As providers begin to roll out 5G networks and FirstNet gets 5G-ready, police officers will have the connectivity and network they need to better serve the communities around them. Though, without a reliable rugged device, connectivity is not feasible. Rugged devices offer durability, high-performance operability and ease-of-use that consumer-grade devices cannot provide based on build. For example, rugged devices can operate even when exposed to extreme heat, cold weather, dirt and moisture. When performing duties out in the field, officers can access important information on their screen even under bright sunlight. Some rugged laptops feature an ergonomic design with backlit keyboards, allowing officers to increase productivity when patrolling or performing duties during night time. Connectivity is important, but so are the devices it is used on.
Drone Technology & Future of Law Enforcement
Unmanned aerial systems (UAS) or drone technology has been gaining popularity within the public safety sector in recent years. With drones, evidence capture is no longer limited by officers’ physical locations.
When investigating a crime scene, drones paired with sensor technology can accurately scan and re-create the scene for further investigation. In the case of search-and-rescue, drones are able to search large areas quickly and more efficiently, regardless of ground conditions. They are also equipped with GPS and thermal imaging capabilities that can give officers and search teams precise location information and live video feeds.
Drones can also safeguard officers from having to enter potentially dangerous situations or scenarios by serving as their eyes and ears and can aid in social distancing.
However, mobile solutions are required to collect, share, and analyze the vast amount of data drones and other devices gather.
In-car, rugged, mobile solutions featuring speech recognition are designed to minimize distractions, simplify access to real-time information, and increase situational awareness, therefore allowing officers to focus on the task at hand. Powered by deep learning technologies, speech recognition solutions provide a higher accuracy rate in transcribing spoken word into text on a mobile device screen. Officers can quickly document or retrieve important details about a suspect while keeping their eyes on the road or surrounding environments.
In the case of filing an incident report, traditionally officers rely heavily on manual processes, which is time-consuming and error-prone. Speech recognition technology can speed up the process, freeing officers from admin-related work to focus their time and energy on serving the community.
Outside of speech recognition technology, rugged mobile solutions offer a number of other useful tools that help with the day-to-day workflow. For instance, auto-brightness settings eliminate potentially distracting ambient light during night shifts.
Additionally, with limited space within police vehicles, rugged mobile solutions with two-in-one device functionality give officers the technology they need but with a smaller footprint. For example, a detachable tablet offers flexibility to take the mobile device out of the vehicle and to a scene. Though, with proper mounting, the tablet can be safely and securely positioned back inside the car, giving officers keyboard access when needed.
No matter where work takes police officers, seamless connectivity and reliable tools that support effective communication will continue to be essential for operational success.
While it’s hard to predict how technology and mobile solutions will transform the public safety sector in the next 10 to 15 years, one thing is clear — as more departments explore new technologies and implement mobile solutions, it will create safer communities and work environments for police officers everywhere.
*This article was written in consultation with the Law Enforcement Advisory Council.