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New York police officers fight crime with the power of Android

It looks like Android just added a new skill to its résumé, fighting crime. Since last summer the NYPD has rolled out roughly 400 handsets equipped with a special Android app designed to find important data quickly.
April 12, 2013

It looks like Android just added a new skill to its résumé, fighting crime.

Last summer the New York Police Department began quietly rolling out a new pilot program that would equip officers with Android-powered smartphones. Since then, roughly 400 handsets have made their way into the hands of officers, providing a way to quickly find information including criminal records and open warrants.

The phones themselves are not able to make or receive calls or texts, instead they are purely about accessing data. This not only provides an important tool for officers on-foot, but in many ways even improves the experience of police officers in patrol vehicles as well.

While the NYPD has had in-car computers for some time, these Android smartphones actually provide a better experience than what is typically found in a patrol vehicle. According to Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, the NYPD Android app provides one entry point to get into tons of databases in a hurry.

In contrast, the in-car laptops require officers to visit multiple different databases, all with different log-ins. As if that wasn’t slowing things down enough, the laptop’s connections are reportedly slower and have spottier connections than found on the smartphones.

Besides providing information more quickly, the information given is also more effective. For example, if a police officer stops someone for a violation, they could previously radio in for information such as whether the person had a warrant out for their arrest. Now the cops can skip that step and not only quickly find out if a warrant is out for the person, but also what the warrant is for.

[quote qtext=”Our dispatcher will tell us if they have a warrant or not but it’s a simple yes or no answer. I don’t know if the guy is wanted for murder or for not paying a parking summons. We rarely know. Now we know.” qperson=”Tom Donaldson” qsource=”NYPD Officer, Housing Bureau” qposition=”right”]

The app goes way beyond just warrants. Building data and security camera locations can also be found through the app. This means that the police can type in a building location and find out about any registered complaints or arrests that have occurred there, and even on what floors.

This certainly represents a huge leap forward for the NYPD, while also showing off just what mobile devices can help bring to the table. Of course there are concerns here as well, such as what would happen if such a powerful tool was lost or stolen. Donna Lieberman, the executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, also expresses concern that the data from the app could be used to simply “round up the usual suspects, to harass people”.

What do you think of the new Android-based pilot program?