iCops: The integration of law enforcement and the Internet

Nestled in the heart of the Silicon Valley, the number one region in the U.S. for innovation and technology, lies Mountain View, a city that quietly boasts an impressive resident population of 75,000. This population almost doubles with the daytime workforce from numerous high tech companies such as Google, Microsoft, and LinkedIn, as well as the various industry startups and venture capitalists that punctuate the city’s landscape. The combination of these varied elements makes Mountain View a unique location for the intersection of traditional law enforcement methodology and groundbreaking Internet technology. 

A typical day for a Mountain View Police Department (MVPD) officer; 0530 hours, MVPD officers assigned to the weekday dayshift begin to arrive. Coffee in hand, they are ready and prepared for the routine daily briefing. Traditionally, a patrol sergeant would sit at the front of the room reading from several clipboards recapping recent police activity and preparing for the day ahead. 

A time-consuming and often inefficient process, these bulletins typically included crime and information notices, administrative memorandums, and a 24-hour log. This process proves to be outdated, ineffective and in much need of improvement. In the past, it was challenging for weekend and weekday patrol teams to effectively communicate information between their shifts and at times this challenge resulted in pertinent officer safety information being lost or not returned to the clipboards.

In an effort to combat these inefficiencies, MVPD worked with a vendor to create the Department Operations Center (DOC), a groundbreaking cloud-based medium to disseminate, distribute, and share pertinent information amongst all of its patrol teams, detectives, and administrative staff. MVPD worked closely with the vendor to create an innovative system that streamlined the flow of information throughout the department. Briefing clipboards of the past were soon replaced with a modern and efficient desktop computer and two television monitors. 

Now, MVPD utilizes an interactive website to brief officers, document warrant service, list traffic complaints, provide officer safety training topics, and monitor trending activity on its social media platforms, including Facebook and Twitter. Furthermore, the system is simple to use, eco-friendly, and designed to encourage communication and the flow of information between officers, records staff, detectives, and command staff. Officers have secure access from a host of electronic devices including the mobile digital computers located in their patrol cars, laptops, tablets, and smart phones, thereby allowing for the dissemination of real-time data.

According to Mountain View Police Chief Scott S.G. Vermeer, “The DOC puts the key local information at the fingertips of our officers in a modern almost Facebook- like format which allows us to collaborate and share information in a way we never have in the past with flyers, clipboards and traditional meetings. This product built through the vision and imagination of our personnel has produced results that have exceeded all my expectations."

MVPD’s DOC allows for officers to submit and share relevant information, upload photos, and update a particular incident. Additional officers can easily add comments or photos to incident bulletins and communicate about the case with each other. Moreover, the submitting officer receives an immediate email notification alerting them when an update is made to their incident. These updates are crucial on felony cases where time is of the essence and, oftentimes, bridges the information gap between patrol teams and detectives.

MVPD launched the DOC in 2010 and it has grown organically since its inception. The system began with a few hypertext titles on its dashboard and has evolved into a series of interactive tabs including warrants, local sex offenders, department memos, resources, training, and a recently added social media tab. It is now the central hub for information throughout the department.

In October 2011, MVPD soon realized the website's communicative ability when officers utilized the system to identify and apprehend a commercial burglary crime spree. Officers from several different shifts used the DOC to update the case by providing photos of the suspects and their vehicle. Consequently, two suspects were arrested after an officer matched the suspect vehicle to the image posted on the DOC. 

At a nominal cost of $1,000 to $3,000 per year (depending on the functionality desired), the capability, effectiveness, and success of the website continues to grow. Bordering law enforcement agencies including Los Altos Police Department and the Palo Alto Police Department have met with the same vendor to create their own website. Additionally, the vendor is currently developing a solution that would link our three departments through a common forum to share cross jurisdictional crime information. The desired result will be to blur the borders between the three cities and gain a better operational picture of crime trends and intelligence in the region, instead of any one city in particular.

Ultimately, crime information should not be limited to an individual city or county, but rather shared on a regional level. When law enforcement agencies work collaboratively on a single and shared platform, information is easily disseminated irrespective of boundaries.  Cities benefit by seeing a reduction in crime and an increase in the level of cooperation and knowledge amongst law enforcement entities.

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