California’s JusticeMobile Redefines Police Work in the Field

The California Department of Justice’s mobile application platform sends vital information to officers’ smartphones.

At the moment when two police officers in San Francisco needed a photo to identify a fleeing suspect, JusticeMobile was there to deliver it.

Using the California Department of Justice’s mobile application platform, the officers checked the suspect’s mug shot on a smartphone and, pausing before knocking, spotted him at the end of the apartment hallway turning around and running away. The officers chased the suspect down and caught him.

“It sounds really simple, and you would think officers had been doing this for years — but it’s not so simple,” said Susan Merritt, CIO of the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD). Merritt retold the incident as evidence of JusticeMobile’s information-sharing power in her jurisdiction.

JusticeMobile is a mobile platform and application, and the first statewide solution for law enforcement officers to access local, state and federal criminal justice information services right where they work — in the field.

The application taps into 13 key confidential criminal justice databases with access to information about people and property. Another application on the platform, SmartJustice, transcends different data sources with a Google-like search portal.

The secure platform is a joint project between the Office of the Attorney General and the California Department of Justice (DOJ) and tested by partnering agencies to simplify officer access to information and keep them working in the field.  

“It’s increasing the safety of our communities by law enforcement actually having access to this kind of information in the field, and it’s also making law enforcement more efficient,” said Adrian Farley, CIO of the Justice Department.

Accessing Information

In 2013, JusticeMobile was first tested by the SFPD and the DOJ’s Bureau of Firearms and was then expanded to 2,000 officers by the year’s end. Since then, the platform has been rolled out to 2,000 more officers, totaling 4,000 today. And the user numbers are likely to keep expanding: More than 100 agencies currently are interested in getting the technology, Farley said.

The DOJ delivers the JusticeMobile service to agencies so they have mobile access to the state’s private law enforcement network, the California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System (CLETS).

But how jurisdictions experience JusticeMobile can be different as the DOJ works with agencies to help them package the platform so it delivers the applications they need. DOJ firearms agents, for instance, can use the technology on their iPads to check potential gun buyers’ backgrounds. The platform has led to dozens of firearm-related arrests, and Farley estimates that it makes the DOJ’s field officers four times more productive.

The DOJ’s county- and state-focused information sharing systems, SmartJustice and Cal-Photo, also are available through the platform. SmartJustice provides one interface to view offender profile information and has mapping and analytic capabilities, and Cal-Photo is a repository for photographic information, such as the mug shot viewed by the two San Francisco officers.

Although there’s also an application of the same name — JusticeMobile — in which officers can conduct a single search against all state and federal data sources, Farley said the long-term plan is for SmartJustice to be the single app for all criminal justice information related to people, accessed through the JusticeMobile platform.

Historically, officers accessed information by using radios or cellphones to call into dispatch, or they drove back to the district station. And information has been contained in different local, state and federal criminal justice databases, all requiring separate, secure sign-ons, Merritt said.

Getting to the right information took time and, Merritt said, it was easier for criminals to give false identifying information because officers didn’t have mobile access to photos or fingerprints, which is possible with the JusticeMobile platform.   

“The idea is that officers will no longer have to call over the radio; they won’t have to drive to a district station,” Merritt said. “They will, with just a few taps of a button, be able to get everything they need right on the phone.”

Smart Security

The DOJ now offers JusticeMobile to its law enforcement agency partners throughout California as a way to manage information and ensure the security of that data, as mandated by the FBI’s security policy.

The policy requires agencies to use a mobile device management system to access mobile information. To do so, the JusticeMobile platform uses Citrix XenMobile and the Cisco AnyConnect Secure Mobility Solution, and was built with many security components, including two-factor authorization, strong password requirements and encryption.

XenMobile helps the DOJ create an isolated, standard environment to allow its applications to interact with each other but not with the rest of the device, said David Smith, director of state and local government at Citrix. And AnyConnect combines Web security with remote access technology such as the ability to control or remotely wipe a device if it’s lost or stolen, according to Cisco.

As soon as their endpoints are proven to be secure, agencies can adopt the JusticeMobile solution and its device management pieces, and by doing so, can attest to the security that they’re providing, Smith said.

If agencies created their technology without the DOJ solution, they must submit the details of their entire technology infrastructure to the Justice Department for approval, a process, which could take years, said Merritt.

Existing mobile computers in many police departments are dated and lack the infrastructure needed to meet requirements to access secure information, Merritt said. Plus, these computers are married to police cars and many officers are not.

Law enforcement agencies are moving toward commercial technologies like iPads or Android tablets, Farley said, which are not fixed devices and can be upgraded and easily replaced.  

“We don’t think they should have to give up anything because they’re at work, including the most powerful and useful tools,” Farley said.

Starting in San Francisco

Farley said the initial challenge was to build the business case to make an investment in the state’s resources, given Justice-Mobile’s steep security requirements.

But the DOJ did it — and also created the platform in-house — by partnering with others to develop a secure framework and pilot JusticeMobile. Starting off small and building a core functionality helped the DOJ make the platform successful, Farley said.

To build its user interface, the DOJ used HTML5 and packaged the application for IOS and Android.

One of the DOJ’s ground-floor partners was San Francisco. Under the leadership of Police Chief Greg Suhr, the SFPD had all the precursors to a mobile system, including a Web-based server, an incident reporting system and officer-selected Samsung phones. But one piece was missing: a portal through which officers could access the CLETS network. For this, the agency needed the DOJ.  

That’s when Suhr, whose mission has been to keep officers working in the field, went to California Attorney General Kamala Harris and shared his desire to get CLETS access on officers’ phones. Her office was thinking of implementing the JusticeMobile platform and began working with San Francisco to make it a reality.

The opportunity for the SFPD to use the JusticeMobile infrastructure proved to be a win-win, as the department was able to use the tech and the DOJ could test it.

The SFPD piloted JusticeMobile in five months, helping to ensure the security of the DOJ’s infrastructure. The platform was then rolled out from June through December 2013 and now all 1,650 San Francisco police officers have smartphones with this technology.

Suhr estimates that the technology saves officers an hour on most police calls, and it keeps them in field and ready for their next assignment. Officers can also peruse photos on their phones and see statewide alerts, shaving off even more time spent in police stations.

“The efficiency of being able to stay in the field with these phones with the information that it has and how fast they are, it has been a home run,” Suhr said.

The police department uses Justice-Mobile to access CLETS through its own Web-based crime data portal, called the Crime Data Warehouse. Given a query, the 2-year-old system can retrieve information from crime reports going back about a decade, Suhr said.

The DOJ has since partnered with many other California jurisdictions, including Santa Clara and San Diego counties, as well as the state Highway Patrol and U.S. Marshals Service.

For its part, the DOJ is continuing to bring JusticeMobile to more law enforcement agencies and to add features, including more case management and record management capabilities and the ability to capture images and conduct field interviews.

The SFPD is expanding the capabilities of its smartphones by piloting fingerprinting in the field and the use of local school maps during shooting situations.  

Given the platform’s power to make officers more effective, Suhr thinks mobile policing will someday be standard issue nationwide, revolutionizing the way law enforcement departments communicate and share information.

“The more people get on systems like this where we can interconnect, we are that much closer to being where we are all sharing information, and it’s going to make everybody safer,” Suhr said. “It’s time.”

Miriam Jones is a former chief copy editor of Government Technology, Governing, Public CIO and Emergency Management magazines.