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A spotlight on mobile field tech with Hexagon Safety & Infrastructure.

Officers rely on a wealth of information to respond effectively to incidents and events. Whether assessing a situation, coordinating a response, identifying vehicles, or conducting background checks, they depend on timely access to reliable data from the first call to their final report.

Here to discuss how new and emerging technologies are helping create a more “connected” officer is Waylon Kenning, Mobile Project Manager with Hexagon’s Safety & Infrastructure division.

What does it mean to be a “connected officer”?

When we say 'connected officer,' we're talking about officers who have easy and barrier-free access to the information they need in the field and are in sync with the people and resources they need to resolve an event. We've always had connected officers in the field in the sense that officers have used their radios to get information and obtain situational awareness. That's worked fine, but the bandwidth of radio is limiting; and when you're running queries in the field or waiting on critical information, that can lead to delays and frustration.

By contrast, officers in some jurisdictions are now being equipped with mobile tools on their smartphones and other devices, and are beginning to move beyond the limitations of radios and in-car systems. New Zealand Police, for example, saw a four times increase in the number of queries for persons and vehicles they could process via mobile apps compared to via the radio.

How does the concept of the connected officer apply beyond the field?

Officers have to manage a complicated workflow when they're in the field. Whether they're responding to a protest or a natural disaster, they have to get to the event, achieve situational awareness, resolve the event, do their report, and then communicate all relevant information back to their office. On top of that, there are some analytics that then need to happen to assess the situation and inform an even stronger response down the road.

All those activities are related, but they've traditionally been quite siloed. Dispatch has been dispatch, records has been records, and analytics has been analytics. The reality, however, is that officers in the field aren't really concerned about that artificial separation – they're doing their best to resolve the issue and move on to the next one. That's where there's a need for tools and systems that can break down those barriers and provide stronger support without giving officers more work to do.

Our strategy at Hexagon has been to flip the traditional approach on its head. Instead of saying, "Here's a product for dispatch and here's one for records," we're focusing on products that connect all these moving parts and transfer data between those products while making it as uniform and user-friendly for the end-user.

It's also about mobility, correct?

Absolutely. Officers need to be able to perform all parts of their job in the field, and we've taken that into consideration in our HxGN OnCall products. For example, we have HxGN OnCall Mobile Responder, which is an app that gives officers the ability to conduct key queries without having to rush back to their car or office desk. With it, they can take a driver's license, scan the barcode, and quickly find out who that person is on the spot. Our apps even enable voice-to-text functionality, which allows officers to conduct and upload interviews in half the time it might take them through traditional pen-and-paper methods.

Overall, officers in the field need to be mobile. They don't want to carry around big laptops or be made to go back to their car every time they need information. They want something that's there in their hand when they need it, and that's been our objective with our dispatch products.

What about on the records side?

The same thinking applies. When an officer arrives at an event, they need to be able to capture all of the incident data fast and file an incident report back to the office. That's why, in the HxGN OnCall Records mobile suite of products, we've focused on providing apps that allow officers to capture data in the field as effectively as possible and upload it to the record that's been created for the incident. That way, all the information they're gathering on location is shared and analyzed by all approved partners which, again, feeds into this concept of the "connected officer."

What would you say are the most significant advantages of being a “connected officer”?

Ultimately, it comes down to speed and efficiency. Again, officers in New Zealand who are already using these mobile dispatch and record products are seeing up to an hour of time savings per shift. That's because they're able to conduct the queries they need to do on the spot and fill out their reports on location instead of writing everything down, going back to the car or station, and transcribing it all again. 

The other benefit we've seen at Halton Regional Police Service is that it has helped keep their officers visible. They don't want their officers spending all of their time behind a desk and an office; they want them to be "feet on the streets" and part of the community.

Ultimately, there are a number of advantages to being a more connected officer – both for the officer and the municipalities they serve. And as mobile technologies evolve and become more accessible, we're starting to see those benefits in the field.

Hexagon Safety & Infrastructure provides mission-critical and business-critical software solutions to governments and service providers. For more, visit www.hexagonsafetyinfrastructure.com.