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iPhone App Expediting Arrests In The Desert
Evan Koblentz
Six hundred arrests per month -- some mobile apps are justified by helping companies increase productivity or reduce costs -- but for the Pima County, Arizona Sheriff's Department, it's all about getting crooks off the street as quickly and safely as possible.
 
The law enforcement organization uses i2 Limited's Coplink, built in the mid-1990s by the University of Arizona Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, and then commercialized by Knowledge Computing Corp. which i2 acquired last summer.
 
Like many police departments across the nation, Pima County began using Coplink many years ago, accessed through desktop computers in the office and through laptops in its cruisers, Bureau Chief Richard Kastigar explains.
 
However, the county was unique in assigning its officers Nextel push-to-talk cell phones in the last decade. That gave Kastigar a better understanding of what could be accomplished if mobile devices could also access Coplink, he says.
 
"When I've got a detective that is looking up similarities of a particular crime... they may only have limited information," he notes. "That data is crunched by Coplink.... we realized their application could be used on a smartphone."
 
"We looked at every type of smartphone that was on the market," and then, "We came to the conclusion that the iPhone was the best tool for us for a variety of reasons," primarily its ability to easily zoom and expand on image details without sacrificing visibility, he says. For example, officers can zoom in on a suspect's facial features, scars, or tattoos -- or something as mundane as a house's broken window. That data can be compared to past convicts, locations, methods, and vehicles.
 
Kastigar also says he may add Spillman Technologies' software for dispatching and vehicle location tracking. He's already looking forward to the added speed of upcoming iPhone 4G devices.
 
The lessons extend beyond police work -- sometimes it's better to measure the results of a mobile app roll-out not in dollars or time saved, but in tangible goals reached.  There's also a lesson that not all mobile enterprise applications must be customized.  By using a standard interface and standard database taxonomies, police around the country can focus on their work instead of on XML structure.
 
Cost was a non-factor.  "AT&T was gracious in basically comping the cost of the phone itself. We had written a grant to the Department of Homeland Security" to pay for the service plans, he adds. Most departments won't be so lucky, but even if Pima County had to pay for it all, "We would probably [still] make that decision. It's that worthwhile of a tool."
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