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New Mobile Application Increases Officer Safety on National Wildlife Refuges

Author: Maggie Freleng, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service intern

Date: 2011-10-06
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With “PocketCop” Refuge Officers are using a new, state-of-the-art mobile tool to protect them in the line of duty and increase communication with federal and state agencies.

Officer safety is always a top priority, whether it is local or state police, county deputies, or U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service law enforcement. With this in mind, David Nicely, Service refuge zone officer in Pennsylvania, teamed up with InterAct Public Safety to deploy InterAct PocketCop and InterAct Mobile, providing law enforcers with mobile access to federal and state agency law enforcement information on a secure network, from anywhere, at any time.

Until recently, access to database systems has been limited to mobile data terminals in officer’s cars. But now, officers are able to access information from anywhere in the field - either on their RIM BlackBerry smartphones with PocketCop or their laptops with InterAct Mobile. This eliminates the added time of going through a dispatcher from the car radio. PocketCop on a smartphone has the added advantage of being accessible when the officer is outside of the vehicle.

“This is, and always has been, an officer safety issue. PocketCop is not a toy, or another thing we want to put under our belt. It is something we need,” said Officer Nicely.  We need to know who we are dealing with out there. This product has really helped us in that aspect and it is a time saver too. We’re not distracted from the individual and can focus on the real issues.”

With PocketCop, officers are offered real-time query capability with secure, wireless access to FBI National Crime Information Center (NCIC), state law enforcement, motor vehicle and international databases. The products let users quickly check the status and records of persons, vehicles, boats, articles and guns on scene without a dispatcher.

“Using PocketCop doesn’t tie up the radio for the local agency using the frequency, and gives you the instant access you need to run criminal history, prison history, plate history, etc.,” said Nicely. “Suppose you run across someone and something in the back of your mind says ‘hmm, this isn’t right’. Now officers can walk away, get to a safe distance, do any background check, and make the situation safer.”

PocketCop supports federal NCIC and state criminal and motor vehicle queries based on a person’s name, social security number, date of birth, driver’s license, stolen vehicle alerts, warrants, vehicle and boat registration, gun registration and stolen weapons.

Officers receive hit responses directly on their smartphones, including wanted persons, stolen vehicle reports, driver and vehicle registration, DMV photos (where available), boat and airplane registration, firearm registration, missing persons, criminal history records, Sex Offender Registry, Probation and Parole Registry and State Warrant records. Users all get a clear, consistent and easy-to-understand onscreen presentation of query results, regardless of source. Hits on stolen vehicles, wanted persons or other high-priority returns are flagged by color and by an audible alarm (unless intentionally disabled in undercover situations).

What makes PocketCop so effective for the Service is the InterAct Law Enforcement Data Delivery Service (or ILEDDS). ILEDDS takes two steps out of the information delivery process. The officer’s request goes directly from the ILEDDS server to the secure FBI NCIC and specific state data repositories, mitigating the need to access local or state servers and eliminating the dependency and wait time of a local or state dispatcher who may have a heavy caseload at the time of inquiry.

According to Nicely, the problem law enforcement agencies have always seen is that everyone does things differently. ILEDDS solves part of this problem by gaining access to both in-state and out of state data sources across geographical and jurisdictional boundaries, through their partnership with Nlets, a non-profit organization supported by all 50 states. Nlets is considered the premiere interstate justice and public safety data communications network for the exchange of law enforcement, criminal justice, and public safety-related information.

“The really great thing about this whole system is if I run somebody in Pennsylvania, and another officer ran that person in California, when I run him or her, I get a notice that the officer in California also had dealings with them. Then I have the option to instant message that officer and talk about the run-ins,” said Nicely. “We are tying ourselves together as a nation, which is really cool.

Not only does PocketCop offer quicker responses by running NCIC and other queries without a dispatcher, but for the first time, GPS data can be made available to mapping applications so users, such as officers working undercover, can be located and contacted, when needed. Scanner-proof messaging between users and with command staff allows officers to communicate while in the field through the same silent, secure one-to-one “talk” group chat and announcement functionality.

“When I log into the system I can instantly see how many officers across the nation in the Service are using it and I can message them at any time for anything,” said Nicely.

Every hit is also automatically communicated to other users for possible back-up assistance, based on a fully customized grouping of agents and officers currently active. In addition, an officer can send a silent request for immediate backup in highly volatile situations. Simply selecting the Officer Needs Assistance (ONA) button broadcasts an emergency notice to all users logged into the system and can provide a GPS based location of the officer who made the request. Especially for officers working alone in remote areas this is an important safety feature.

“The number one issue is that we don’t know who we are dealing with half the time,” said Nicely. “Where it was once a drawn out process and we wasted a lot of time doing background checks over the radio, we can now do it safely and efficiently. It’s not foolproof – nothing is – but it is definitely improving safety for officers in the field.”

- Corporate News/9-1-1magazine.com (via InterAct and USFWS, 10/5/11)

Photos via USFWS

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