Blue Line

The business case for mobile-first policing

May 5, 2017  Sponsored by by BlackBerry

BlackBerry’s James Asser discusses the key stakeholders who need to be involved, goal-setting and where secure communications make a real difference

When James Asser joined a U.K. police force 18 years ago, he admits he wasn’t always very accessible to most of public he was serving.

“The only way to contact me was my police radio, which you wouldn’t have access to, or my phone, and the chances of me actually picking it up were pretty low, because I wouldn’t be there,” he recalls.

Asser, who now works with BlackBerry as Director of Public Safety, sees mobile technology as a way to not only make police services more productive but also more present. This includes physical presence: by using location data in devices to show government the kind of coverage officers have in a given area, but also online, which may be where the public but also criminal activity is happening.


“It’s something that most of the police forces we work with are looking for — to be more visible in every possible way,” he says.

Blue Line recently spoke with Asser by phone about how BlackBerry sees mobility changing policing today and in the long term.

Blue Line: What defines a great mobile experience in police services today? What do you need to think about as you get started?

James Asser: It depends on where the mobile experience efforts are coming from. In most police forces here in the U.K. there are three distinct groups: 1) IT group, which is led by IT professionals; 2) innovative group, which are led by younger officers, mainly frontline officers, who see the need for technology, understand the consumer because they consume all these technologies in their personal lives and expect the same in their corporate life; and 3) the strategists, who are the senior officers. So it really depends on the level of work that goes on between those three parties. They all need to be on board and there needs to be a mixture of involvement across all three.

Quite often forces that try to go to the market with a really complex strategy tend to fall short because what they’ve built involves complex systems that take a long time to deploy to the field. And by the time they get there they don’t represent what the officers on the street actually need or want.

BL: What’s the risk of doing nothing or delaying the use of mobile technologies, given those consumer expectations you referred to or the increased sophistication of criminal activity?

JA: The public around us have changed. They don’t want to come into a building in the middle of a town centre. They don’t want a letter or a call. What they want is a secure message, or the ability to use Twitter or Facebook or all of these other mechanisms of contact. A police force that doesn’t accept that becomes isolated quite quickly because it tries to force people to use communication routes that they’re no longer used to using.

In terms of criminal activity, I’ve seen lots of police forces come up with some interesting ideas. One of the big issues we’re contending with right now, especially in Europe, is these (terrorist) attacks. There’s a need to have information sucked in from the public, who are in many cases the first ones on the scene. There are opportunities to take that kind of information, including video information, and transfer it directly to a control centre so that the commander can gain situational awareness. [Here], they can actually see what you’re seeing. If you don’t take the right technology on, you won’t be able to handle that information or manage it.

BL: How ready are police officers and staff to adapt to these new technologies?

JA: There are pitfalls. Sometimes forces can’t see how to take a manual process and digitize it. Think of a pocket notebook; for many years officers took these little notebooks around as part of their daily work. The next evolutionary step was seen as, ‘Let’s digitize it — take those notes and put them into a digital form on a tablet.’ There’s actually so much more you can do. You can leapfrog way beyond that because [you have to know] what is the purpose of the information. Is it to change the nature of the investigation? Is it to change what happens around you? The next evolutionary step is not to have a pocket notebook on a digital tablet; it’s to be able to take that information and share it sensitively in a way that actually helps.

So, for instance, if you stop a member of the public and have an interaction with them, it is being able to send a receipt of that interaction on their e-mail client. It is being able to send information to the fire service or health authorities in real-time. It’s about making use of the information in the notebooks. That’s where the value comes. And if you don’t have those mobile technologies in place you lose the opportunity to change those outcomes.

BL: Given those three different sets of groups that may be involved in the mobile-first strategy, how do you suggest police forces set goals around their use of mobile technologies?

JA: They all have different goals. The goal for an innovator is going to be a much more rapid experience, user satisfaction, whereas IT is more concerned about the security of information, total cost of ownership in terms of IT management and overhead. Whereas the strategists aren’t concerned with any of that — they’re dealing with the bigger issues.

What we’ve seen in the U.K. market, for example, is staff being constrained on resources. In other words, fewer police officers on the street. So they have less visibility into what’s happening and the frontline officers may be younger, with less experience, but they really need to be experts in almost everything. So what we’ve done in a number of cases is offered BBM® Enterprise It’s like WhatsApp, where you can have real-time chats with groups or individuals, but with enterprise-level security added to it. So the innovators get what they want in the sense of an application they’re used to using, IT departments get the control they want, and the strategists wind up being able to offer a much better service to the public.

BL: As their mobile strategy evolves, what should police forces be looking forward to in terms of emerging innovation?

JA: The real opportunity is the ability of forces to operate in tandem with (government) agencies. There’s always been this vision that the police force should work with health advisors, fire, ambulances. Take a road traffic crash. It doesn’t just involve the police, it involves an extensive list of organizations. And of course it involves the public who are dealing with traffic congestion on the road.

The way forward is collaboration. How do you collaborate across both a desktop and mobile environment? We have a product called AtHoc™, which is a crisis communications platform extensively used in the U.S. military and other agencies that lets you communicate in real-time — I’m talking seconds. We had a catastrophe here in the U.K., and I can tell you that every second counts. So during a crisis, lets you send out a single message to every smart phone, desk phone or screen. That message can go to the public through Twitter, to Facebook, or directly to organizations so that you can change the outcome. We’re focused on this area because obviously, we know how the world is changing around us, and we have to change how people move when incidents happen.

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