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Bedfordshire Police is currently rolling out 1100 BlackBerry smartphones to front-line officers in a move to increase efficiency. Dawn Davison-Read talks to Insp. Jim Hitch, Project Manager, Bedfordshire Police and Graham Baker, Senior Strategic Account Manager, Research in Motion, to identify how the use of these mobile handsets are helping to keep officers out on the beat...
Some three years ago, Bedfordshire Police embarked on a pilot using BlackBerry handsets to provide senior managers within the force access to emails whilst out of the office. The success of the pilot, led to a further trial in November last year where operational officers in Luton were also provided with BlackBerrys. However, this wasn’t for email access alone.
In fact, as explained by Inspector Jim Hitch, Project Manager, Bedfordshire Police, the trial, which ran until April of this year, was to ascertain if the use of the BlackBerry’s could further aid the efficiency of the force’s front-line officers. “By front-line, we mean operational officers out on the beat. It rapidly became clear that the provision of a tool, such as the BlackBerry wireless solution, would allow them to become more self-sufficient when away from the station and also increase officer presence on the streets.”
The use of the smartphones has now enabled officers access to operation critical applications and systems, whilst out of the station such as remote access to the Police National Computer (PNC), the force’s crime management system, Intelligence database, warrants, Police National Legal Database and its custom-built briefings application. Commenting further, Hitch said, “By using BlackBerry smartphones to access critical applications on the move, instead of at their desks, our officers will be able to increase their visibility in the community and improve their operational efficiency. Officers no longer need to radio the control room for information or intelligence every time they question someone or see something suspicious. BlackBerry gives officers the power to quickly check crucial details such as identity, vehicle ownership and previous convictions with very little effort and in a secure and robust manner.”
In addition, remote access to the force’s custom-built briefings application provides officers with real-time access to information and photographs of wanted or missing people, helping them to quickly and confidently conduct identifications. Bedfordshire Police is also using BlackBerry smartphones to gain immediate, mobile access to the force’s warrants database. This is a completely electronic system that delivers a warrant entered at court directly to the officer on the beat. Accessing these crucial systems remotely has enabled officers to increase their efficiency, as they no longer need to return to the station or radio the control room to access information or log their updates.
The selection process
Discussing why the force selected BlackBerry, Hitch said, “Many of the solutions we trialled did not allow us to mobilise the computerised systems that we already have in place. With the BlackBerry solution, we were able to do this quickly and easily. The solution operates securely with a low overhead which means low costs to the public. Managing our deployment of devices through the BlackBerry Enterprise Server has also been hassle free. We can change a security policy or push out a new application remotely, saving both time and money,”
“In addition, the BlackBerry is very simple to use and the battery life, which provides usage for several days, was an important element, you have to factor in that at some point an officer will forget to charge his device.”
Prior to investing in the BlackBerry solution, the force conducted a pilot in which officers provided feedback on their experiences, issues and any potential problems with the devices. This ensured Bedfordshire Police deployed a solution that front-line officers would find useful, useable and practical. The BlackBerry solution was chosen as the preferred device because it is robust, applications and systems could be simply mobilised, and most importantly, front-line officers used it. Commenting further, Hitch added, “Part of the success of the implementation has been down to officer contribution. We didn’t simply send out questionnaires asking for feedback, but actually spent time with front-line officers out on the beat, to identify their actual needs and requirements and how they wanted the solution to work to best suit the demands of their jobs on a day to day basis.”
Graham Baker, Senior Strategic Account Manager, Research In Motion added, “One of the most refreshing elements about Bedfordshire Police during the mobile data deployment, was that they worked with the officers at each stage, which is probably whey they are having so much success with the solution during roll out.”
“Forces such as Bedfordshire demand remote access to multiple back office systems such as their local crime management systems and the PNC. We are working with a number of forces to support their mobile strategy and to help them mobilise the applications which allow them to spend less time at the station and more productive time on the beat,” commented Baker. “Data security is also a key decision maker for police forces. The BlackBerry solution has been designed primarily with security in mind and has been approved for up to and including government restricted data by government security experts CESG.”
Explaining further, Baker added, that the solution was not only unique in its level of security compliance, but also should an officer lose a device it could be stunned remotely. Discussing this issue further Hitch pointed out that already four devices had been lost. “The ability to stun remotely has meant there have been no security breaches or risks. In fact, three of the lost devices were found and it is very comforting to know that although they had been stunned, in order to reactivate them they had to be re-formatted by ourselves.”
Hitch also explained that in addition to selecting the BlackBerry devices, the force chose T-Mobile as the preferred network since it offered the level of coverage required across its operational area.
A device too many?
With the growing number of personal issue items that police officers now carry, we questioned whether officers wanted yet another device to carry. Hitch explained that whilst it was a valid point, surprisingly not one officer had raised this issue. “The devices are compact and lightweight, furthermore the body armour that is now worn by front-line officers has the click fast system on the front, one holds the Airwave Radio, and one holds the BlackBerry.”
Furthermore, the BlackBerry is essentially a mobile phone with mobile data functionality and thus can be used for telephony if required. Baker added that the clarity of voice communication was equal to any mobile phone and although the force did not see it’s use as an alternative to Airwave, it could be used as a complimentary tool should the need arise, offering additional communication resilience to officers.
And to the future
All in all this implementation will enable Bedfordshire Police to work more productively while on the move, bringing huge benefits both to the police officers on the front line and the communities they serve. In addition, the force has also considered how safer Neighbourhood Teams are managing the single point of contact requirement from the government by building SNT e-mail addresses managed by everyone on the team. “They all appear in the global address list, and most teams are using them - but not all! Training is ongoing and ILNA inspectors are aware of the need to promote and use the accounts. Officer e-mails are not appropriate as the point of contact is lost when an officer moves or leaves - hence the need for a Single point of contact for partners via BB telephony to an SNT - not an officer.”
And to the future? Hitch, concluded, “Currently 600 officers have the devices and we intend rolling out a further 500. Some of which have camera’s providing even further functionality. This investment certainly appears to be improving productivity and enabling our officers to work smarter.”