What Law Enforcement Needs From its Tech Stack In 2021

Both mobile technology and uninterrupted access to situation-critical data are essential to law enforcement effectiveness, but public safety technology is not always delivering what law enforcement needs. A recent report from VDC found that key pain points around public safety technology are a lack of visibility into critical data and incident reporting systems, as well as a growing need for device interoperability.

The pieces for a robust public safety tech stack that can resolve these problems exist today, but not in a single fully integrated system you can buy off the shelf. There isn’t one all-encompassing solution capable of delivering all the mobility, real-time intelligence, and policing tools that officers in the field need.

However, there are incremental steps that agencies can take to build out a law enforcement tech stack for 2021 that successfully delivers both mobility and situational awareness.

Rugged mobility as convenient as personal smartphones

Officers relying on out-of-date or in-car-only MTDs are filling in their mobility gap with their own personal smartphones. More than 95% of 7,000-plus first responders surveyed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) use smartphones in their daily duties. However, only about half use workplace-issued devices.

That means at least half are trusting their lives to consumer-grade smartphones and their inherent shortcomings: battery life issues, fragility, and reliance on public cellular networks for connectivity. The NIST study, for example, found that 70% of responders surveyed had experienced battery life issues and connectivity dead zones while around half reported occasional problems with device durability.

The foundation of the law enforcement tech stack should be rugged mobile computers, whether it’s in the form of handhelds, rugged tablets, or 2-in-1 laptops that combine a removable tablet and an in-vehicle mounted keyboard with expansion ports. Rugged handheld devices like the Panasonic TOUGHBOOK N1 give law enforcement officers the convenience of the same tech-enabled experience they are already comfortable with in their connected personal lives. This helps streamline training and speed adoption.

By starting with rugged devices in place of personal smartphones, agencies can provide immediate functionality and connectivity benefits for their officers. At the same time, they have a “future-proof” investment in a device that will be able to interoperate with other technologies as they come on board.

Enhanced connectivity speed and reliability

You can assure that officers have the broadband connectivity they need by replacing consumer cellular service with FirstNet™, the nationwide wireless communications platform dedicated to America’s first responders and public safety community. FirstNet is bringing public safety communications into the 21st century, giving first responders the modern tools they need to strengthen their incident response. For optimum connectivity, law enforcement officers can switch seamlessly between push-to-talk via LTE and legacy radio systems. The TOUGHBOOK N1 provides broad always-on connectivity options, including dual SIM cards, voice capabilities, and AT&T Enhanced Push-to-Talk.

Data migration to the cloud for real-time intelligence

New software-as-a-service offerings for computer-aided dispatch (CAD) and records management systems (RMS) can help agencies gain cloud access to the latest software, which is often designed for interoperability, without upfront capital investments.

Officers can use CAD apps to access real-time intelligence about callers, the situation on the ground, maps and driving directions, traffic and weather updates, and other location-and situation-based data. Connectivity to RMS systems in the cloud can give officers real-time access to situation-critical data about individuals, incidents, cases, and more.

Implement the latest field and in-vehicle equipment

As budgets allow, modernize policing tools such as lightweight, sensor-initiated body cams and low-light in-vehicle camera systems. Video feeds are captured via the vehicle’s Wi-Fi network and stored by the in-car video system. The automated license plate reader (ALPR) queries a back-end database and displays the results. Evidence-gathering can include photos captured on handheld or tablet computers. That same handheld or tablet can scan a driver’s license, be used to issue an e-ticket and capture a signature.

For officers who need the flexibility of a mobile device and a laptop computer’s functionality, consider the recently updated 2-in-1 TOUGHBOOK 33. It pairs a fully ruggedized, removable 12-inch tablet with a keyboard and expansion ports that are docked in the vehicle.

In the vehicle, officers need a powerful tablet that stays connected even when they are outside the vehicle. Look for functionality you’d see in a handheld computer, such as barcode reading, fingerprint scanning, and long-life, hot-swappable batteries.  

Increased situational awareness with voice recognition

After an incident, officers can dictate their reports in the vehicle using voice-to-text technology, leaving eyes free to focus on surroundings. That’s important because 96% of law enforcement professionals agree that being heads down while doing data entry can reduce situational awareness. Having this easier way to complete reports increases time spent in the community rather than back at the station.

The future of law enforcement technology

Equipped with the right tech stack, agencies can continue to upgrade to new policing hardware and software and be confident that future investments will be compatible and interoperable with their mobile ecosystem. With the right tools in place, law enforcement agencies will be well positioned to take advantage of emerging innovations such as augmented reality as they become available.