A new mobile application is helping U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) refuge officers identify potentially dangerous suspects and stay connected to colleagues while conducting investigations in remote locations.

Called PocketCop, the app provides a secure connection to the FBI National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database. Officers working in wilderness areas can now run a background check on a person and get near instantaneous results, giving officers peace of mind about who they are dealing with.

Prior to using the app, David Nicely, zone officer with FWS, said that in order to determine someone’s criminal history, he’d have to call a local police department to request a check on an individual after the encounter. But that’s changed thanks to the connectivity PocketCop and its laptop version, InterAct Mobile, provides.

“If I run somebody, the system will tell me automatically if one of my fellow officers ever had any interactions with this individual,” Nicely explained. “It’ll list the officer’s name and I’ll be able to contact them through instant messaging through the system itself or via cell phone.”

The feature comes in handy, especially if a person is a repeat offender of a minor ticket violation, Nicely added.

“If we find out this guy is habitual and maybe is an outfitter that does this routinely, we may want to make it a mandatory court appearance and hit these people hard because they have a history,” he said.

The app also acts as a deterrent. Nicely said that when he comes across someone and wants to run that person’s license plate, he asks that person if there is any reason why he shouldn’t do the check first. If they see the computer or smartphone and realize the check can be done immediately, they are more forthcoming, making the process easier.

If the background inquiry is done and comes up positive for a warrant, the app then gives an officer a bright red flash on the screen and a warning tone that there is an issue with that individual. It also provides a contact person and phone number so the officer can verify the warrant and see if there is extradition.

“I would have never dreamed that I could check a hunter in the middle of a duck blind in a big marsh and maybe I have a feeling or cop intuition that something isn’t right, I could do the background check right there in the field,” Nicely said. “Now we can and that is a big plus.”

The app may also be an asset in matters of national security. In addition to running background checks, officers using PocketCop can run gun serial numbers and when applicable, vehicle registration numbers as well.

Last year, Nicely worked a detail in the southern United States when he spotted an airplane that violated federal airspace. He transmitted the plane’s N-number using InterAct Mobile on his laptop computer and was able to pull up all the registry information for the individual.

“Within two hours I was sitting at the guy’s door, literally waiting for him to come home,” Nicely recalled. “I literally got him as he was driving home from the airport, got him to admit everything and basically closed the case right there. Normally, if you have to go through the FAA, stuff takes a little while to get answered, and this was immediate.”

Despite its obvious uses, both Nicely and Roger Karr, ILEDDS program director for InterAct Public Safety, stressed the key point regarding PocketCop is the safety assist it can provide officers.

One of the safety features, available on both the smartphone and laptop version of the application, is an “Officer Needs Assistance” (ONA) button. With one touch, all officers on the system — that have GPS enabled — in the United States, immediately are notified that that an officer is in a difficult situation and requires backup.

“We can provide exact coordinates to give officers directions to where that officer is,” Karr said. “That is a huge hole these guys have been dealing with being out in the field alone.”

Development History

PocketCop and InterAct Mobile were developed by InterAct Public Safety, a company that creates incident response and management software. Launched in Sept. 2010, more than 100 FWS officers now use the app — which is roughly one-fourth of all the FWS officers in the United States, according to Nicely.

The app runs through the InterAct Law Enforcement Data Delivery Service (ILEDDS). Officers use the app and submit inquires through ILEDDS, which are submitted to the FBI NCIC database and various state databases. This eliminates the need for refuge officers to rely on local police departments for some insight into who they find out in the field.

Karr explained the application runs through a cloud computing environment powered by the National Law Enforcement Telecommunications System (NLETS) network.

InterAct helped establish a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with NLETS, the U.S. Department of the Interior and the FBI to provide the direct connection to the NCIC database nationwide, across all state borders.

“It really allowed us to make the investment, set up a cloud on the NLETS network and provide host services,” Karr said. “We look like a state criminal information center in the eyes of the FBI, but it allows us to host all the regions of the FWS.”

Currently, PocketCop is available for use by any federal law enforcement agency. On mobile devices, the app runs on the Blackberry platform, but Karr said an Android version of the app will also be released soon. But for those loyal to Apple devices, the wait may be a bit longer.

Karr explained that the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) division requires security clearance for all the devices that receive or transmit law enforcement data and iOS hasn’t met the FBI’s standards yet.

“There were some pretty significant holes in the security requirements for the iOS,” Karr admitted. “They are working hard now to block those holes and provide security so we can use the iOS as a delivery platform.”

Brian Heaton  |  Senior Writer

Brian Heaton is a senior writer for Government Technology. He primarily covers technology legislation and IT policy issues. Brian started his journalism career in 1999, covering sports and fitness for two trade publications based in Long Island, N.Y. He's also a member of the Professional Bowlers Association, and competes in regional tournaments throughout Northern California and Nevada.