Blue Line

What’s your 20?

December 3, 2015  By Tom Rataj

1098 words – MR

What’s your 20? images: images:

by Tom Rataj

Knowing the location of officers after they step away from their GPS-tracked police vehicles continues to be a challenge.

While the bulk of typical front-line policing is done by uniform personnel driving vehicles, the remaining personnel – especially those on foot, bicycle, horseback or other modes of transportation – are usually just out there… somewhere.

My exact location was always a big unknown for the dispatcher when I went out on bicycle and foot patrol. I would do the usual over-the-air sign-on at the beginning of the shift and provide the beat or general area where I was going to patrol. It was my responsibility to keep the dispatcher informed of my location, which often happened only when I came across something or responded to a nearby call.

Officers assigned to a GPS equipped vehicle don’t face most of those challenges because the dispatcher, for the most part, knows their location to within a few dozen metres.

Lightship, a Canadian company based in Kamloops, BC ( has a new solution to this and several other operational issues that could help improve police operations, efficiency and officer safety.

Lightship Works was developed as a worksite management tool and can interconnect thousands of resources, including people, machinery, sensors and other devices.

It integrates information from, and most notably about, them, offering managers far more accurate, effective and context-sensitive information which can enable more intelligent and timely decision making.

Although designed primarily for complex commercial and industrial worksites, its features could potentially make it a good tool for managing large-scale police operations.

Resource information is one area where it adds value beyond that offered by other products. Automation tools and functionality makes this information readily accessible. This offers many advantages, including enhancing the ability to deploy the person with the right skills and equipment to a particular place or situation. It also potentially avoids the problem of sending unqualified or underqualified persons to a problem area simply because they are physically closest.

A large part of the product’s functionality relies on connecting resources to the system. People are typically connected through the Lightship Works app on their smartphone. Equipment, machinery, sensors and other devices are connected through a variety of wired and wireless communications technologies.

The two-way communication functionality enabled by using a smartphone allows workers in the field to complete their assignments and report the results without relying on verbal communications. Every action that occurs within the product is recorded for future auditing and quality-control.

{Resource tracking}

As with GPS tagged vehicles, individual officers using the app can readily be tracked in real time. Other electronic devices can connect through the officer’s smartphone. This could include simple devices such as the FitBit fitness and activity tracker, for example.

Stationary devices and systems such as CCTV cameras, door sensors and gun-shot location systems can also be connected to provide a variety of live data inputs.

The system is fully scalable so it can simultaneously track and communicate with thousands of people and devices. All the connected and tracked resources can be viewed in a map-view interface, making it easier to visualise where everyone and everything is.


The product currently works with smartphones running Apple iOS and Android OS; BlackBerry and Windows Phone applications are in development.

In addition to the communications functionality within the app, the system is also capable of sending SMS (aka texts) to smartphones and pagers (for those people still using them). Lightship advertises that its system can send up to two million messages per second.

It has been designed to accept data from a wide variety of devices so users aren’t tied to using or acquiring proprietary hardware from one particular manufacturer.

{Skills database}

As with workers in the industrial and commercial worksites that the product was designed for, police personnel often have specialised training and certifications, personal skills, equipment, secondary languages or belong to specialised teams or groups.

Traditionally, getting quick access to these kinds of unique skills has been difficult because they are stored in different databases, including primitive holdovers such as three-ring binders full of tattered papers, bound journals or even just a supervisor’s head.

Because Lightship is designed to accept, store and use all this kind of skills data in real-time, it becomes automatically accessible. The dispatcher or manager doesn’t need go looking for it somewhere else because it is already stored in the skills database.


As part of the visualisation aspects of the product, managers can also show or hide information on their map-view using the layers tool. This could include showing or hiding features like physical structures, roads and bridges, waterways and other user-defined layers necessary or appropriate for a particular situation or deployment.

{System access}

Authorised personnel can access the system from any connected personal computer or tablet capable of running the Google Chrome browser, which includes most desktop, laptop or tablet computers.


All messaging within the system is secured using 256-bit AES encryption, preventing unauthorised persons from reading intercepted messages.

New or temporary personnel or contractors can be added to the system in five minutes or less, and can be deactivated just as quickly. This could be very useful when running large operations involving multiple agencies, such as when police, fire, EMS and others work together.

An additional security feature of sorts is the history mode, which allows managers to have an accurate record of events based on all the activities and events during a particular time period or operation.

{Lightship vs CAD}

Although many Lightship features and functionality are similar to Computer Aided Dispatch, it is designed to complement, not replace CAD systems with additional layers of valuable decision-making resources.

Many of its features and functions provide a whole different way of looking at operations because it can automatically track and communicate with many additional resources.

{Business model}

Lightship Works is a cloud-based product which can be obtained as a hosted service or purchased and operated in a private cloud configuration.

Many smaller agencies may not have the budget, expertise or computer infrastructure to operate it in-house so the hosted service model may be the most practical.

The pricing model is based on paying for individual users only when that user is active on the system. Price per user ranges between $1 and $3 US, depending on the duration of prepayment.

This is an interesting product for managing a wide variety of resources. The integration of so much information, especially about resources, into one package, and its visualisation interface offer new levels of intelligent and informed decision making.

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