Mobile GIS Puts The iPad To Work
By Brian Albright, Field Technologies magazine
California police department arms officers with iPads, iPhones, and mobile access to GIS data to improve effectiveness and efficiency.
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 mapbased crime information in the field, while at the same time automating the collection of information 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 scrutiny 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.”
But The iPad Isn’t Rugged — Maybe It Doesn’t Matter
iPads and iPhones are not rugged, though, which is one reason most law enforcement agencies have historically deployed hardened mobile devices. Redlands has gotten around this issue by using protective casings from OtterBox. “There have been three ‘casualties’ so far,” Mielke says. “Two were dropped; one was lost. One officer had an iPhone clipped into his belt, and it fell out and landed on the ground and bounced while he was going 45 miles per hour. Believe it or not, the device was just fine.”
The Redlands police department has deployed 168 iPads and iPhones. Every officer, all field civilians, civilian supervisors, and some citizen volunteers have the iPhones; higher-level staff members (sergeants and lieutenants, for instance) are also given iPads. According to Mielke, it took approximately a month and a half to deploy the devices to the majority of the field staff. One upside of selecting the iOS was that training was minimal, since most of the officers were already familiar with the phone interface.
In order to connect the iPads and iPhones with the existing PC-based applications in use at Redlands, the police department deployed the Mobile Iron mobile device management solution. Mobile Iron handles configuring Exchange profiles, Wi-Fi settings, VPN settings, device security, application deployment, and inventory management. If a device is lost or stolen, the department can use Mobile Iron to remotely wipe the phone of all data.
The Mobile Iron system also allows the department to upload files to the Mobile Iron server without having to make their applications available in Apple’s public app market. The department uses an LDAP (lightweight directory access protocol)-based director to verify police log-ins on the mobile devices and also uses a VPN to ensure secure access to the sensitive police and criminal record databases.
All of the information from dispatch, reported crimes, field interviews, and traffic collisions and citations is fed into the CrimeView system, which is integrated with ArcGIS. All incident data is geocoded and sent into the GIS storage solution. “Esri serves as the central storage location,” Mielke says. “Our mobile applications can work off the ArcGIS framework; we don’t have to maintain a separate environment.”
GIS Goes Mobile
Redlands deployed The Omega Group’s NEARme mobile application for proactive policing using proximity- based crime correlation. Officers use their iPad or iPhone to access the map-based data and can query incident reports and field interview information. The NEARme application shows the user a map view of their immediate location, with field interviews, collisions, and criminal activity flagged by location. The officer can tap the display for a list view and drill down into incident details. “Officers can see what has happened on the specific block they are patrolling,” Mielke says. “They can even find the phone numbers for everybody on that block. If officers come across information that would help on a specific case they know a coworker is in charge of, they can use the mobile app to forward that information to other officers in the field.” The location-based crime data is pushed out to the mobile devices and refreshed every four hours. Now, instead of having to access the CrimeView information on a desktop PC, officers have it with them in the field at all times.
Officers can also use the Spillman Touch module for the company’s computer-aided dispatch (CAD) solution, which allows them to access records and images, and view dispatch information on the iPad or iPhone. The Spillman solution displays all active calls, addresses, assigned units, and call comments. Officers can enter additional comments using their mobile device and can also update their status during an assigned call (i.e. en route, arrival, call closed, etc.).
Another key application is The Omega Group’s Field Contact, which allows officers to easily enter information about field interviews on the iPad or iPhone. Field interviews are a valuable source of intelligence, but the traditional paper-based reports were time-consuming to complete and were not always submitted or entered into the central server in a timely manner. With Field Contact, the officers can create new field interviews and search a database of names for existing people who may have previously been interviewed. They can also collect contact information and enter basic descriptions of the interviewee’s appearance. “Any information that was gathered before using a paper field interview card is now gathered by the Field Contact app. It also allows greater information to be collected, such as images,” Mielke says.
Redlands also uses an Officer Information Exchange, a social media application that provides two-way flow of unstructured information between officers and ad hoc group creation for projects. In addition, officers can send email, access the Internet, take photos, and transfer video using the basic applications already on the iPad or iPhone. The officers with iPads even use Apple’s Keynote presentation software.
All of that functionality has opened up new possibilities for leveraging the devices in the day-to-day work of the police force. For instance, officers can send photos of confiscated goods to check with crime victims to match stolen property, rather than setting up in-person appointments. In one case, officers were able to use the Red Laser bar code scanner app on the iPhone to scan bar codes on stacks of merchandise that had been stolen from different retailers. Using the scanner helped determine which stores the products might have come from, saving time by reducing the complexity of matching the goods with the merchant.
Redlands is even extending some of the data it’s gathering to the public via The Omega Group’s CrimeMapping.com application for the iPhone. The Omega Group’s Crimemapping.com app (available in the Apple App Store) utilizes mapping, geocoding, and customization capabilities provided by Esri’s ArcGIS Runtime Software Development Kit (SDK) for iOS. Once they download the app, citizens can see information about recent criminal activity in their neighborhood via a map view very similar to the one in the officers’ NEARme application.
GIS Provides Value Citywide
The police department’s application does not exist in a vacuum; Redlands also uses GIS for permitting, work orders, engineering, fire incident analysis, utilities improvement projects, and waste collection. All of the data from these applications can be used together to help improve operations across departments. “GIS is one of those natural tools that allows us to share information from one department to another in order to make informed decisions,” Mielke says. “The best example would be the police department collision data being used to help plan our pavement and street safety operations. That’s a no-brainer in the evolution of enterprise GIS for the city.” Redlands has also used GIS data to better plan its LED streetlight deployment using location-based data on night crimes, population density, nighttime collisions, and business permits.
The fire department is also using some iPhones for emergency drills and emergency operation center activation using ArcGIS. “One of our biggest risks here is earthquakes,” Mielke says. “In the instance of such an event, we have to be able to collect information and distribute it in the field during the emergency situation. As something like the evacuation parameters change, the mobile solution enables us to alter those in the field. We can take pictures and videos and share them with the emergency operation to make better decisions in real time.”
The fire department also uses the phones for inspections and preplanning. For example, the department can collect data on knock box locations where businesses store their keys, emergency exits, and areas that might be high risk for each business location. “Being able to collect that data and build a feature data set in the field while doing those inspections is ideal for us,” Mielke says.
The police department solution has only been in place for a few months, so there is not yet sufficient data to determine how the solution has impacted operations. Having access to the CrimeView data in the field should also help officers make better decisions during their shifts about where to concentrate their patrol activities. Mielke says the department is also evaluating new ways to better analyze pictures and field interview data, as well as determining how to share that richer set of data with the regional crime analysis group that Redlands participates in. Eventually, Redlands hopes to replace some or all of the $5,000 to $6,000 in-vehicle laptops with lower-cost iPads or iPhones.
The field interview process will likely benefit through more efficient report filing and more accurate data. The department has hired a criminologist to help evaluate the impact of the solution and to assess the overall effect of the mobile application and targeted policing on crime in Redlands.
Part of that process will involve surveying users (police officers) about the perceived utility of the devices, evaluating the quality of the field interview data over time, and tracking changes in users’ perception of where crime is occurring. This last measurement, called cognitive mapping, will determine whether providing the crime data in a more consumable format will affect the accuracy of their understanding of where crime is actually occurring. The department would also like to see the number of interviews increase, the time between the start of an interview and the upload to decrease, and the time until the interviews are available for review to decrease. “We’re also interested in seeing where they are using these applications,” Mielke says. “What data are they requesting in the field? How many times is a particular block requested in the server? We can use this data to see how much time we are spending per crime in the field and to make better decisions about how we’re spending that time.”
GIS provides a wealth of data, and making that data mobile allows you to put it in the hands of your frontline workers in situations where it’s most beneficial. Whether your workers are police officers, utility workers, or service technicians, arming them with real-time data in the field — like Redlands has done with its officers — enables greater productivity and more accurate information exchange.
Mobility Options Expand To Fit Your Needs
When the Redlands Police Department opted to deploy a handheld device to help officers access map-based crime data and improve data collection in the field, one of the factors that made its deployment of iPhones and iPads possible was the availability of law enforcement applications for the iOS platform. Traditionally, the types of solutions used by law enforcement have been Windows-based systems that run on laptops; however, there are an increasing number of solutions built for smartphone and tablet platforms that are providing more flexibility for these applications.
In particular, Redlands was able to leverage mobile applications from Esri partner The Omega Group, which was already providing its mapbased CrimeView solution to the department. CrimeView, which works in conjunction with Esri’s ArcGIS geographic information system, geocodes all incidents, citations, traffic collisions, and field interviews. Using that data, the department can develop maps that can help show patterns of criminal activity or identify “hot spots” where additional patrols might be needed.
On the mobile front, The Omega Group offers NEARme, which extends the mapbased CrimeView information to iOS and Android-based devices, enabling patrol officers to have fast access to recent incident information from their patrol area. The solution also broadcasts the officer’s current location, can display building streetviews and mug shots, access arrest reports, and identify activity, persons, and other information of interest around the current officer location.
The Omega Group pushes the data out so that the mobile devices can access the location- based crime information, which is updated every four hours. “Before, to get to that information they would have to access the solution on a desktop computer on our internal network,” Mielke says. “Now we can do it in the field with iPhones and iPads.” For more on The Omega Group, visit theomegagroup.com. For more on Esri, visit www.esri.com.