Baltimore cops go wireless with Blackberry

The police force highlighted in The Wired TV series is using Blackberry smartphones to help restore personal relationships, giving officers more face-to-face...

The police force highlighted in The Wire TV series is using Blackberry smartphones to help restore personal relationships, giving officers more face-to-face time with people on the street.

Officers are also saving at least 30 minutes a day waiting for the results of queries to verify information that needs checking from central intelligence sources.

Gayle Guilford, systems director for the Baltimore police department, said the initiative came in 2009 when the department aimed to get police "out of their cars and into the community".

Under the Side Partner project, the department has developed a "pocket cop" Blackberry application, wired up to GPS and Google Maps, that tells police dispatchers where officers are at any moment. It also says what they are doing and their availability to respond to alerts.

On the beat, the application tells officers what warrants are outstanding, who they should be looking for, and what they day's priorities are.

It also allows police to check tags from vehicles and drivers' licences for stolen cars or outstanding warrants.

Sergeant Sheree Briscoe, who was the project manager, said the system had made contact with members of the community more conversational. This was safer and friendlier because officers no longer needed to return to their cars to call in details or wait for replies to queries.

"But we have advised officers to secure the suspect or to have back-up because as soon as you start looking at your Blackberry your attention is focused on that," she said.

The system has also increased the level of respect and dignity that police can accord suspects. "This is really important when everyone is carrying a device that can monitor and record your own behaviour," she said.

Briscoe said the system allowed officers to start taking evidence such as photos and streaming video even before forensic teams arrived.

This was very useful in on-going situations such as domestic violence, she said. It allowed them to upload evidence, providing intelligence that allowed the department to start building the case file immediately.

Guilford said they had to source long life batteries because officers' shifts often ran 10 hours or more. Extra memory was also essential to store crime scene images.

To improve security, the department used token-based two-factor authentication. They had also needed to ruggedise the handsets and find holsters that held the handsets securely during foot chases.

More than 200 beat officers were now equipped with Blackberries, about 10% of those who will get them, budgets permitting. Briscoe said detectives were also likely to be issued with Blackberries, provided they weren't working undercover.

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