Motorola puts image-enabled police officers on the beat

The first Tetra handset with a built-in five megapixel digital camera is launched by Motorola Solutions to bring more capabilities to police forces

Motorola's position in the mobile marketplace has been achieved through several re-inventions over the last decade and a half. The company moved from a focus on pagers – which still have a role in some markets – through to cellular technologies and the wider smartphone world. After it sold its consumer arm to Google, it changed course and one of the areas it is looking to concentrate on its industrial two-way radio business.

Motorola Solutions is targeting the communications devices at police and other, more commercial security services. Although there is a prevailing focus on the police service, these products are also commonly used by oil and gas firms, transportation organisations and utilities bodies.

To bring its latest Tetra public safety telecommunications products to market, Motorola gathered a group of press and analysts in London a stone's throw away from New Scotland Yard.

What is Tetra?

Terrestrial trunked radio (Tetra) is a set of standards developed by the European Telecommunications Standardisation Institute (ETSI) to define a common mobile radio communications infrastructure throughout the continent. 

The standard aims to minimise risk to front-line personnel while distributing critical intelligence to field staff.

Vice-president and general manager of Motorola Solutions´ global Tetra division, Tom Quirke, explains that, during the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, for example, 167 different agencies had to work together and use the Tetra network to communicate during the Thames river flotilla.

“Motorola was behind 1.1 million ‘push to talk’ actions in just 12 hours,” he says. “A cellular network would not have been able to handle this volume of mission-critical communications, all connecting with each other across multiple devices and using multiple protocols.”

The depth of market penetration means an officer will never leave their station without a radio. This has now given Motorola and its rivals the drive to be able to build devices with more capabilities with the benefit of additional electronic intelligence.

“When an officer attends a crime scene, the evidence is perishable,” says Quirke. “People naturally leave the location, so witness information needs to be captured. For example, footsteps in sand, snow or mud disappear and even bruising starts to heal as soon as it appears.”

“The important thing here is to remember any officer in attendance is present primarily there to help save lives, so he or she may destroy evidence as part of that process.”

Tamper-proof photography

With these challenges in mind, the firm’s latest product – the MTP6750 – is the first Tetra handset with a built-in five megapixel digital camera. With a camera-enabled radio present at a crime scene, the officer can now document pictures straight away. But why not do this on a mobile phone?

The primary reason here is typically any phone or camera’s editing software allows its image to be cropped. This means it could be tampered with, making it inadmissible in court - this is why much security evidence is still based on film.

The Motorola devices are capable of taking a time stamp from the Tetra network itself, which is secured beyond that of cellular networks. Integrating image capture and processing capabilities onto the radio platform ensure common workflow processes are enforced and images come under the security protocols of the security agency using the device.

The on-board software intelligence starts to come to the fore when we look at the way images are captured with these devices. As soon as a photo is taken, its data values are sent through an algorithm to create a digital fingerprint for every particular image. If one single pixel is changed, this is immediately flagged up, ensuring secure image authentication exists.

"We have spent many, many years working with governments to ensure that the security of this encryption remains robust," says Quirke.

Evidence capture capabilities

With these greater levels of functionality to accommodate, the networks themselves have to be engineered and provisioned for a greater level of data transport. Where the initial single slot packet data (SSPD) standard exists for this kind of communication, the latest Motorola unit is the first Tetra-enhanced data service (Teds) radio of this kind, transporting images up to 10 times faster than SSPD.

The unit can also be remotely administered from a control room so briefings can be sent to officers in the field. Integrated Terminal Management (iTM) allows a fleet of radios to be managed remotely from a central location, including image back-up and software updates.

This enables shift leaders and dispatch to push images to any number of officers’ radios while they are charging. Briefing notes can also be attached to images, allowing them to be sent directly to officers’ radios instead of carrying paper documents.

Motorola also disclosed new data from IMS Research (now acquired by IHS) analysing the findings of its latest investigation into the impact of mobile digital imaging on police effectiveness across Europe, including legal implications and practical applications of the technology.

The research found there were six common use cases for officers in the field: they want to use a device for imaging, database look-up functions, report writing, mapping, video features and email/internet functions. Motorola says it has tried to embody as many of those features in its new products as possible.

Increased conviction rates

IMS research analyst Thomas Lynch explains how, at the moment, officers are very typically using pooled equipment and/or making do in various fragmented ways, rather than being able to turn to one product capable of handling all the tasks they need.

Lynch also says that research conducted across Europe, the Middle East, Asia Pacific and North America had found the use of imaging data in court as permissible evidence was “generally acceptable” to both individuals and authorities.

Lynch claims that, with pictorial evidence now being presented in court situations, a markedly higher percentage of guilty pleas (and then onward conviction rates) are being seen. A study taken in the US state of Indiana showed officers given cameras to catalogue cases as they happened reported an increase of guilty pleas from 28% to 64%.

The connection possibilities are wide-ranging. For example, officers in a shopping centre looking for a missing child could ask a mother to upload a picture straight from her own phone to the police officer's device and it could even be uploaded to the police network for a wider search.

Application integration situation

On the applications front, the apps used do not need to be standardised or re-engineered for this device as they themselves sit on the Tetra network.

Motorola says it realises adoption rates will differ depending on the market, so the APIs have been kept open. This should mean organisations do not have to re-engineer their back office operations to be able to bring these devices into circulation.

Motorola’s Quirke insists the MTP6750 was designed to “fit perfectly” into the workflows of public safety organisations such a policing.

“In interviews, officers repeatedly told us that viewing images while mobile and being able to take images at incident scenes offers major benefits,” he says. “We are convinced that this is the image management system for which users and agencies have been waiting.”

It is interesting to consider this device – and perhaps a few others like it – may now become as commonplace on our streets as video surveillance cameras.

Given Motorola’s already extensive deployment stats for this type of device across the police and security services, your future bobby on the beat will now be an image-enabled, web-connected, database-linked bobby.

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