Aug 17 2020

How Modern Tech Helps Police in the City of Arlington Stay Connected

Wireless and mobile technology helps police in Arlington, Texas, meet their mission.

The population of Arlington, Texas, is on the verge of surpassing the 400,000 mark, making it one of the 50 most populous cities in the country. The police force is busier than ever, and officials are looking to technological innovation to help lighten the load.

“We are demanding more of our police departments [in general], insisting that they do things differently and better,” says Brett Dove, research and development manager for the city’s police department. “It’s a good time for everyone to think about how we can best service the community, especially at a moment when the usual funding isn’t really there.”

To that end, the Arlington Police Department has pursued several recent innovations. The department has plugged into the First Responder Network Authority, also known as FirstNet, the national first-responder broadband network. A new, unified platform simplifies video management. And an internal app is making it easier than ever for officers in the field to access vital information.

FirstNet Supports Improved Connectivity for First Responders

With support from city officials, the department has made FirstNet implementation a top priority. Deployed by AT&T, FirstNet leverages a dedicated spectrum known as Band 14 to give public safety officials ready access to fast, reliable broadband connections.

“More than anything, we are interested in connectivity,” says Deputy City Manager Gilbert Perales. “Any time the police can access information that assists them in doing their job, that is really crucial.”

Arlington’s police force leveraged FirstNet early, implementing it in 2018 in support of its body-worn and in-car cameras. “Because it supports both cellular as well as Wi-Fi, the body cam is always connected,” Dove says. “When we upgraded to FirstNet, we immediately got better service, whether it’s phone calls at the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium, Six Flags over Texas or the Rangers’ Globe Life Park, or streaming drone footage from a critical incident.”

FirstNet officials say that’s just what they were aiming to bring to public safety agencies. “Reliability has always been a top priority for public safety,” says First Responder Network Authority CEO Edward Parkinson. “The FirstNet Authority worked closely with public safety to design and deliver a reliable, secure network to meet their unique communications needs.”

In its initial smartphone implementation, the hardware literally paid for itself and then some. AT&T FirstNet offered the city the Apple iPhone XR at 99 cents with a $200 rebate, “so that paid for a few months’ worth of services,” Dove says.

The biggest advantage has been the ready availability of bandwidth, something the department didn’t have before FirstNet. “When you are on a commercial network, it throttles: You are fine for a while and then it takes a big hit,” Dove says. “FirstNet isn’t allowed to throttle us, and we’ve reviewed it to make sure they don’t. That is a huge advantage. The connectivity is there, the bandwidth is there.”

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City Police Maintain Connectivity in the Field

The department has also turned its attention to internal connectivity, looking for new ways to ensure officers on the street can access the information they need in real time.

The department already equips its fleet of cruisers with 235 laptop devices. While the Dell Latitude 14 Rugged Extreme 7414 can access a wealth of departmental information, officers aren’t always in their cars. “If the officer walks to the front door or a manager is called from home, they are not going to carry their laptop, so we wanted a way to look up information on both a personal phone and department-issued phone,” Dove says.

Arlington, Texas Police

The City of Arlington equips its fleet of cruisers with 235 laptop devices. Source: City of Arlingtom Texas

The city partnered with the Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services to develop the MyPD app, which they rolled out in 2019. The solution is hosted on the Microsoft Azure Government platform, which supports the app on agency-owned and personal devices. Arlington secures its agency-owned devices with MobileIron mobile device management.

“They can look up statutes, general orders, intelligence bulletins, shift reports and training materials. They can look at other calls for service in the area. It has a place for the chief’s blog, social media and all our departmental messages,” Dove says.

Public safety experts say that kind of ready access to data is vital to effective policing. “It’s just like in any profession: You need information in real time,” says Jeffrey Slotnick, senior regional vice president for the security association ASIS International.

Slotnick, a former police officer, says the Arlington app could be a boon to officers in the field. “Lots of data comes into a police department, whether it is submitted by a citizen or it is information that comes from 911,” he says. “The officer needs to see certain information before they respond — whether there is a prior history of violence at that address or whether there is information on an offender already in the system.”

VIDEO: Discover how Opelika, Ala., backs up body camera video wirelessly and makes it available upon demand.

Department Aggregates Data from Multiple Video Sources

Another major initiative involves consolidating all the department’s video feeds onto a single platform. In the past, camera systems have all operated in silos, with their own management tools. Recently, the department tied together all its video deployments — body cams, car cams and interview rooms — onto a single platform.

Arlington , Texas Police

The MyPD app allows officers to look up statutes, general orders, intelligence bulletins, shift reports and training materials. Source: City of Arlingtom Texas

That migration delivers “a huge advantage,” Dove says. “We are talking about hundreds of thousands of videos and petabytes of storage, so we need a simple process for officers to classify those videos. Having a single system greatly reduces that complexity.”

Perales praised the department’s decision to bring together all its video resources. “There is a lot of data out there, and a unified system makes it a lot easier to capture and manage all of that,” he says. “By consolidating, you only have to have one person managing all that, instead or two or three or more.”

The department uses LexisNexis Lumen and Motorola Vigilant FaceSearch for facial recognition. Because some have raised privacy concerns around facial recognition, the department uses it in a limited way with robust policies. “If we are trying to identify a suspect based on just a picture, we can compare that to publicly available mug shots,” Dove says. “Even then, it only gives you a percentage: For example, there’s a 60 percent chance that this is the same person. It is not going to give you a positive identity, but it can give you leads.”

Motorola Vigilant license plate recognition, which is deployed on 11 city police cars and integrated into Vigilant LEARN with Vigilant Mobile Companion, offers another valuable investigative tool. When the department hears of a stolen car, wanted persons or an Amber Alert, “this allows us to pick up that information as we are driving around, or alerts on a computer or phone. It gives us a big investigative edge,” Dove says.

The department also transitioned to the National Incident-Based Reporting System. Migrating to a new law enforcement records management system and NIBRS changed the way the department does business. The department also transitioned to handheld mobile computers and printers by Zebra Technologies.

“We went from having in-house hosted servers to a cloud-hosted solution,” Dove says. “The new solution integrated well into our municipal court Tyler Incode system, so that was a big decision point. With that compatibility, it makes the process much more efficient.” The cloud deployment has been a budget-friendly transition. “Now, instead of a big expense every five or ten years, we can plan the cost and sustain the software as a service, and we get regular upgrades,” Dove says.

Taken together, these efforts add up to a police force that is better prepared to protect and serve a growing population. “When you have to make split-second decisions in the field, all this technology really helps,” Perales says.

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