A new mobile application is allowing law enforcement agencies to access public records and information in the field through tablet devices and smartphones. It’s also helping put criminals behind bars.

Less than 24 hours after being deployed during a January trial run in Seattle, investigators in the city were able to use the LexisNexis Accurint Mobile app to help locate a person of interest in an assault case and make the arrest, according to Lt. Mike Edwards of the Seattle Police Department (SPD). The app has been in heavy use by SPD officers ever since.

“It has been used multiple times in the field, from general investigations, to assault, robbery and gang cases,” Edwards said. “It’s definitely a time saver for us [and] is used to not only look for people we have an interest in, but in some cases, being able to clear somebody.”

The app was officially released earlier this month and while not a replacement for dedicated research and analysis by an investigator on a computer back at the police station, it does help officers gather additional information while in the field. Important details such as a person’s past residences, affiliations, news articles and other items can spur additional lines of questioning during suspect interviews.

Tom Joyce, director of law enforcement strategy for LexisNexis Risk Solutions, who also served 21 years in the New York City Police Department in various investigative roles, said in the past, officers would have to take notes from interviews with persons of interest and do the research on them later.

In his view, Joyce felt the Accurint Mobile app fills a void, allowing investigators to ask more informed questions during initial contact with a potential suspect, instead of waiting until hours, or even days, later.

“We thought with a mobile device, how great would it be to be able to offer solutions that can be quickly accessed and allow for querying and research while the interview is taking place,” Joyce explained. “A quicker, easier way to get exactly where the interviewer wants to get can [now] all happen on the spot.”

Edwards said the app is a “very significant” time saver for the SPD. He explained that to do investigative research from the field previously, it required a radio or cell phone, with one officer contacting someone at a workstation at the station, while the other was conducting an interview. But now, that “second body” is eliminated, so that the people looking for the information and doing the analysis are one person.

In addition to saving time, however, Edwards believes officers in the field are safer, particularly when they approach people for questioning that they are not overly familiar with.

“[The app] gives us a tool to make an assessment on how to deal with that individual,” Edwards said. “No one size fits all, but it gives us the ability to get additional information to evaluate risk factors on that person. So it definitely improves safety for the officer on the street.

“We’re putting the information and data directly into the hands of the officers when they need it without delay and that is incredibly important,” he added.

The SPD is currently using the app on two iPads and is testing it on the iPhone. The department also plans to deploy more tablets with the app in the coming months.

While the app is free and available through the iTunes App Store, in order to use it, a person must have a subscription to LexisNexis. Accurint Mobile is available for use on the iPad and iPhone, along with the BlackBerry platform. LexisNexis representatives said additional mobile platforms are currently under development.

As with most new programs, once they’ve been used for awhile, plusses and minuses regarding functionality tend to surface, and the Accurint Mobile is no exception. Edwards said the biggest challenge for law enforcement personnel is getting an app that brings all the information officers need to one single location.

“Right now, even in this app, its somewhat fractured in that way, in the sense we have other places we have to go outside this app to get information we are looking for,” Edwards said. “But we’re working closely with [LexisNexis] and they are developing that internally. Predominantly I think it’s because the customers they have don’t process the data the way we do.”

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 1998, 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.