​Queensland Police Service taking mobile to the streets

The Queensland Police Service, which began its mobile journey in 2013 and has 4,100 mobile devices currently in the field, says the move to mobile has invaluably increased productivity and officer safety.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

In 2013, the Queensland Police Service began the journey of mobilising its field officers after realising the state's 11,000 officers were living in the dark ages when it came to technology.

Speaking at IDC's Asia Pacific Enterprise Mobility Conference on Friday, Adam Keens, mobility technical manager on the mobile services program for the Queensland Police Service, said that prior to 2013, all officers had for mobility was radio. If an officer was called for service, they had to speak with the call centre from the street and spend valuable time retrieving required information.

From a technical point of view, Keens said the force's mobility transformation focused on how the officers could enter information once, and retrieve it once, without having to log in to multiple systems while standing on the road with an agitated citizen.

"We wanted to capture [data] once and use it many times, rather than having that whole repeat process. We wanted to reduce the reliance on police radio, as it was a very congested radio trying to do thousands of checks at once, and we wanted to get them out into the field," he said. "We didn't want them in the office doing paperwork if it was something they could do whilst at the scene."

"Obviously as well wanting to improve community and officer safety, so the officers know what situation they are walking into. We deal with some very different characters and it's not just happy customers that we're trying to deal with."

In May 2013, Keens was told his section had until October 1 of that year to deliver an app that would deliver person search, vehicle search, and be capable of pushing data back to the police system.

"We had six months and we did that and we had many trials and tribulations as we went along but we got 50 devices in the field on October 1 with a HTML5 app," he said. "But we really delivered them the dumbest smart device you've ever seen."

"We put the cart in front of the horse and pushed it. It wasn't about us providing them email or internet -- and when they got these devices they were literally a brick -- they could only use the app and that's it."

Keens said that once the iPhones were in the field, the police service took the initiative and assessed its mobility plan monthly to determine what was actually required in the field.

After handing out 1,400 devices, Keens said the police force realised they originally built its platform as a pilot and needed to perform back of house duties to fix it up, before it was ready for field officers for the upcoming Group of 20 (G20) Summit in Brisbane later that year.

At the time, Queensland Police Service Commissioner Ian Stewart promised 1,250 more iPads and iPhones in time for the 2014 G20

"We have received feedback from officers which shows these devices are successful operational tools, particularly in remote and regional Queensland," Stewart said.

"Officers are getting greater access to operational information where traditionally they would have to rely on radios in areas of bad coverage."

Keens said this took the police service up to 2,800 devices. A further cash injection into the force also allowed them to commence a three-year mobile services program.

"Prior to mobility we had a program running for five years, and all that delivered was one in-car platform device as a proof of concept, which cost us AU$50,000 for one car and 12 automatic number plate recognition vehicles," he said. "So we really started rolling out some significant technology and significant savings."

The Queensland Police Service now has 4,100 mobile devices in the field, and by the end of the financial year, Keens expects that number to reach 5,400. He said there is the potential for that number to reach 7,000, which would cover all frontline police officers.

Using the 4,100 devices in the field, Keens said officers performed 53,000 street checks in February, with the service previously totalling 600,000 per year. Positive drug testing is now processed within 5 minutes, rather than 30, with the officers able to process that information on the spot rather than return to their station, Keens said.

Vehicle searches previously took officers their entire eight-hour shift to perform five, versus the hundreds that Keens said they are now processing daily.

He said there was one scenario where two officers on duty were at a petrol station and while one was filling up the car, the other ran quick vehicle checks and found a man filling up his own car who was wanted on a return to jail warrant. He was consequently picked up and taken to the station.

"Stuff like that wouldn't have existed if we weren't giving these guys the capability," Keens said. "These guys are loving this thing and they're absolutely using it."

Keens said the police service has estimated its mobility initiative has saved it a minimum of 30 minutes per officer per shift, as a conservative estimate, but holds evidence the figure is quite larger.

In the upcoming 18 months, Keens said the service will be developing its beta Triple 0 app, which will have the ability to push Triple 0 information out of communications centres and into the field, and allow the officers to see the emergency information live.

"When a missing person has been reported missing for the very first time, time is of the essence. It's about recording that information as fast as we can and getting that information available to our system," he said.

"We're also doing a frontline mobile evaluation with the University of Queensland where we're actually doing a research study on the last thousand devices [that were handed out] to actually determine, has mobility made a difference.

"Anecdotally, though, you'll hear every day that they've got the best devices for the job."

Keens said the service's mobile transformation was about dealing with facts rather than hyperboles.

"We were quite lucky with our security people, they were willing to come on the journey with us, but we've had to had some discussions with them where they say we can't have touch ID because what happens when the officer gets knocked unconscious, or their finger gets cut off and it's used to open the device," Keens said. "Well if you talk to any officer, the bigger problem is why they're even knocked unconscious."

Keens said the service's mobility shift has provided huge reductions in costs and an unsurpassable transformation of services.

"The key driver wasn't about saving money -- the business case wasn't built on that -- it was about making them more productive and being able to deliver services in a more efficient way ... and about officer safety."

He did add, however, that the support from the Commissioner was critical.

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