Policing as a platform helps Palm Springs slash paperwork
- By Stephanie Kanowitz
- May 12, 2015
Police officers in idyllic Palm Springs, Calif., keep a box of 56 forms in their vehicles that they pull out when they respond to an incident. After they fill out the paperwork by hand, they take it to the station, digitize the information and upload it, create a folder for it and move it to a secure file, where the evidence team grabs it and moves it again.
“There’s a lot of inefficiency and man hours wasted,” said Palm Springs Police Department Sgt. William Hutchinson. “Not only do we want to go paperless, but how can we keep the officers in the field longer without having to come to the station? We wanted a platform that could do a lot more than just forms... We also wanted them to be able to take pictures and do audio or video -- anything digital.”
For help, Hutchinson turned almost two months ago to Toronto-based SceneDoc, which specializes in policing-as-a-platform. SceneDoc is a software platform that enables public safety officials to securely collect information using mobile devices. In addition to digitizing all those forms, the latest version, 3.,0, lets users take photographs and record audio and video all from within the platform that’s downloaded to the device.
What’s more, it lets officers and supervisors on-site or at headquarters communicate in near-real time. SceneDoc’s data synchronization system automatically syncs with the cloud so that supervisors can get case updates as they happen.
That’s been a huge boon, Hutchinson said, because there have been a couple instances when a detective has been able to tell an officer on the scene to ask additional questions. In the past, detectives would review files once officers had manually submitted them, and then detectives would have to hunt down the missing information themselves.
While still in the testing phase in Palm Springs, SceneDoc is already reducing the time officers spend on paperwork by half, Hutchinson said. Using iPad Air 2 tablets, officers can log in, choose the type of form they need and then populate it by keying in information or selecting from drop-down menus. With the hit of a save button, all the information goes directly to the police department’s server, keeping officers on their beats.
“I suspect that with a little more learning and as the officers get to use this, that 50 percent will be more like 60 to 75 percent as they start getting better at this, which I think is going to drastically improve our response times and the officers’ time on call,” he said.
The platform, which works on Android and iOS devices, is not web-based, so officers can use it even when they don’t have Internet connections. Additionally, the data they collect remains encrypted and containerized on the device whether it’s connected or not. Once a user gives the OK to submit the information, it goes to a specified server.
Given the nature of the information, security is a top priority. To that end, the product complies with Criminal Justice Information Services requirements and uses 256-bit encryption and multifactor authentication.
“Whether that data is on the smart device or moving to the server or on the sever, all of that data is fully encrypted throughout that entire process,” said Alex Kottoor, SceneDoc’s CEO.
Additionally, photos taken with SceneDoc don’t comingle with those on the device’s camera roll. “We don’t want the gory homicide picture showing up in the same roll as your kids’ fishing trip last weekend,” Kottoor added.
In its latest iteration, SceneDoc can now manage team-based investigations. “Because the software has the intelligence to know who is in the agency’s structure on the platform, a case leader can arrive at the scene or be back at the office, for that matter, and assign a case to these 33 agents or these 33 officers,” Kottoor said. “At that point, every bit of data collection happening through SceneDoc seamlessly gets managed through a single case or occurrence number, and then from a reporting perspective the software would have the intelligence to bring that all together.”
Additionally, the platform now accommodates shared devices because it silos user accounts so that when one person logs in, he or she can’t access what the previous user collected.
Pricing for SceneDoc is structured around volume-based subscriptions . The costs include licenses, support, storage and automatic updates when the company releases new versions, which happens about twice a year.
Hutchinson plans to give SceneDoc to all the officers in his department in July. He also plans to take advantage of the platform’s ability to integrate with the department’s computer-aided dispatch system, and he looks forward to planned SceneDoc capabilities such as scanning driver’s licenses, he said.
“I wish we would have had something like this years ago,” he said.
Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in northern Virginia.