Originally posted at Smart Cities Council.
About City of Redlands Police Department
With a staff of more than 70 sworn officers and a contingent of civilian volunteers, the City of Redlands Police Department is responsible for the public safety of the 70,000 residents in this thriving community about 70 miles west of Los Angeles, California. The Department is a full-service agency covering everything from standard patrol response to investigations and ongoing community programs.
To address budget cuts, the Department looked to technology solutions that would streamline communications to the field and reduce costs. Through a grant from the National Institute of Justice, the Department was able to deploy new touch-based smartphones and tablets to virtually all personnel, from supervisors to patrol officers, and develop customized applications. These mobile computing devices and apps quickly proved their value in everyday field operations. But as the Department continued the deployment, it became clear that their IT team needed a cohesive and centralized way to administer this mobility infrastructure and better support its users in the field.
Alongside the AT&T Wireless Services it uses to provide voice and data services for the mobile devices, the Redlands PD adopted MobileIron VSP from AT&T to manage, deploy and secure them. Through a centralized portal, Department staff can send device settings, new software and software updates to any and all devices as needed. In addition, staff can easily manage users’ access to critical enterprise applications and even remotely delete sensitive data from phones if they are ever lost or stolen. Now the force has access to critical information, regardless of where they are, with the security that is demanded.
From Citrus and Railroads to Software and Academics
The City of Redlands, California, lies about 70 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean. A hundred years ago, it was known for its highly productive citrus groves, its railway hubs and as a vacation destination for wealthy Los Angeles residents.
Today many of the citrus groves are gone, but the city is home to more than 70,000 residents, along with the University of the Redlands and one of the largest companies in global information systems.
The city’s public safety is in the hands of the Redlands Police Department. Its 79-member force deals with the issues common to most mid-size cities, ranging from property crime to drugs and gang activities. The Department has garnered a rather unique level of public support,
with more than 200 civilians volunteering to assist the sworn officers. These volunteers serve as the eyes and ears alert to crime throughout the city, and they also relieve officers of more routine duties such as making home checks for residents who are out of town.
Taking the Smartphone Revolution to the Streets
When touch-screen smartphones began to change the mobile phone landscape a few years ago, the Department quickly saw the value in these devices. They were easy to use, and felt more capable than previous smartphones. Both the top staff and patrol officers began switching from their older phones, simply as a matter of preference. The department soon decided to provide new smartphones to the rest of the force.
Through a grant from the National Institute of Justice, the City of Redlands PD received funding to develop enterprise-type applications for smartphones to deliver better information to officers and investigators on the scene. The grant also helped fund the deployment of the mobile devices throughout the Department.
“We began work on two applications,” said Travis Taniguchi, PhD, who applied for the grant as Redlands’ Criminologist. “One was a crime mapping application that allows department personnel to quickly access crime data about the area where they are currently located. Users are able to do this, while in the field, directly from their smartphones. The officer would instantly know about recent burglary events or arrests at that particular address, which can be immensely helpful in responding to the situation. Officers can even determine who owns the property.
“The other application was for supporting field interviews,” Taniguchi added. “It allows officers to collect data directly on a smartphone while interacting with a member of the public who might be a witness, a complainant or someone involved in an investigation. This reduces paperwork and gives them more time to spend in the field.”
Expanding the Reach, and the Apps
As Redlands developed its mobile device applications, officers discovered that other widely available apps proved valuable out in the field, right alongside more conventional smartphone functions such as email, photo taking and plain old telephone conversations.
“We saw that officers began to weave the smartphone and tablet capabilities seamlessly into what they did all day,” said Taniguchi. “It might be as simple as using a smartphone to quickly document a crime scene or accident with a series of photos before the investigation team arrives. Other times, it involves communicating more quickly with headquarters and saving crucial time during an investigation,” he added.
“During a recent investigation, our officers were able to get a description of the perpetrator while talking to a robbery victim. The description reminded the officers of someone known to them in the area,” Taniguchi continued. “They contacted our crime analysis unit, who quickly assembled a photo lineup of six people that included the suspect in question – and immediately sent the images to the officer’s tablet computer. The robbery victim was able to pick out the suspect on the spot via a mobile device, without visiting headquarters. This saved hours and even days of delay. The investigation was able to move ahead swiftly.”
Addressing the Management Issues
The Department’s mobile device applications proved so integral to everyday operations that utilization skyrocketed before the question of administering and managing them even arose.
“Honestly,” said Taniguchi, “we didn’t think about a management platform when we started. We had about 175 devices out there in the field that were becoming more and more critical to our officers and investigators, but no central way to manage them at all. That’s when our AT&T team stepped up.”
The AT&T team pointed out that a centralized platform would make it dramatically easier to handle the details required to administer the Department’s devices. This includes controlling access to the Department’s virtual private network and to applications, assuring that all devices are properly configured and deployed with the right applications, and managing software or system updates.
“What AT&T proposed to us,” said Taniguchi, “was MobileIron, a centralized platform for managing all our devices remotely. It immediately solved the biggest issue, which was getting the 175 devices authenticated to use our Departmental apps. It also created our own private app store that makes our apps available to every device, as needed.
“We’ve found the platform allows us to push settings out to the field, either for a new device or to install changes made here at headquarters. That lets us keep our devices updated and current. There would be no practical way to do that manually.”
Taniguchi also pointed to the MobileIron security capabilities as a critical part of management. “As we continue to develop our custom applications and push more and more information out to the mobile devices, we need to make sure that sensitive information isn’t accidentally made public or put into the wrong hands.”
Using the MobileIron platform, the Redlands IT team members can immediately delete departmental data from a mobile device if it ever goes missing. If an officer loses a smartphone while pursuing a suspect, the Department can immediately send a ‘wipe’ command out the phone, instantly deleting all departmental information remotely.
Going Ahead With Mobile
What benefits did Redlands achieve by going mobile? “It’s really about increasing communication within the Department,” said Taniguchi. “People respond to communications much faster when they all have devices. Having easy access to email and to one system just plain works, whether our officers are on foot, segway, bicycle or motorcycle. Ultimately it enables them to do a better job and respond more quickly.”
As one of the first police departments to adopt a smartphone and tablet platform on such a scale, Taniguchi is often approached by other departments around the country for advice and insight on developing their own mobility strategy.
“Aside from explaining the apps we use and how we integrate them into what we do out on the street every day, I always emphasize a management platform as a must-have element in the mix. It’s something you should do from day one. There is no way to administer hundreds of smartphones and tablets without a platform such as MobileIron, especially as a side job. Don’t even try.”
What are the Department’s future plans for its mobile strategy? “We will be expanding our applications and developing new ones,” said Taniguchi. “For supporting volunteers, for distributing content and information, and for doing what we do right now, but just a little better.”