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Police Test App That Instantly Reveals Criminal Records

IPhone app allows police, fire and first responders to scan nearby homes for registered sex offenders and other persons with criminal records.

by / February 9, 2011
Tom McKeith

Police don’t have X-ray vision goggles yet, but a new iPhone app will give them the ability to instantly see what’s been previously reported to have happened inside a home and who with a criminal record has lived there.

The SafetyNet Mobile Insight app enables an officer to point an iPhone’s camera at a location, and using the phone’s GPS to bring up the address, check the law enforcement history or officer safety hazard information of the location in question — within seconds of getting a 911 call.

For example, if dispatch sends an officer to a neighborhood to look for a missing child, the first concern is that an abduction might have occurred, said Lt. Wayne Hoss from the San Mateo, Calif., Police Department. The officer can take out his iPhone and literally scan the neighborhood from one end to the other and an icon would pop up if there are any sex offenders living close by, he said.

Police officers in San Mateo and neighboring Burlingame recently put the app through a 90-day trial. Both police departments have been longtime customers of Hitech Systems, the company that generated this idea and provides computer-aided dispatch and records management systems to law enforcement, fire and emergency medical services agencies.

“We went though about 20 to 30 software changes as the officers found different needs,” Hoss said. “Now we have got it down to a product that they could resell to customers and roll it out departmentwide.” Plus, it’s simple to use: Hoss said he can teach an officer how to use the app in fewer than 5 minutes.

The app’s price has not yet been determined.

Officers can also use the app to do video chats, which could be helpful when a victim at one end of the city needs to identify a potential suspect who’s across town. The app can also track police units to determine how far away an officer is from a crime scene. Hoss said as newer versions come out, he’d like to see more querying functionality and license plate recognition incorporated.

When the trial began, 70 percent of San Mateo’s and Burlingame’s officers already owned a personal iPhone, Hoss said, which they were allowed to use during the testing phase. However, he isn’t sure he wants officers using their personal phones on the job, partly for security reasons.

The system feeding data into SafetyNet Mobile Insight is encrypted through a virtual private network and data isn’t stored on the phone. If an officer loses the phone, the device would be remotely wiped of data.

For now, the app only searches within the participating city’s database of criminal records, so an officer in another part of the state wouldn’t have access to San Mateo’s database. However, as the San Mateo Police Department experiments with data sharing, Hoss said it’s likely that this app could someday work across the country.

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Lauren Katims Nadeau

Lauren Katims previously served as a staff writer and contributing writer for Government Technology magazine.

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