Mountain View, Calif., Police Pilot Officer Tracking Tech

The technology allows police officers to decide if they want to be tracked via their department-issued cellphones.

Crowded events at large venues often require numerous police officers to patrol the areas on foot. During a two-day concert held Sept. 28 and 29 in Mountain View, Calif., the local police department piloted a new tracking technology to identify officers' locations while they patrolled the grounds of the event.

But not every officer had to be tracked. Altus blue force tracking, technology developed by Polaris Wireless, allows police officers to choose whether or not they want to be tracked, said Mountain View Police Department Lt. Chris Hsiung.

Officers who chose to be tracked during the concert were monitored from a command post set up at the event. To connect to the tracking system, officers receive a text message on their department-issued cellphones then decide to opt in or out through the message, according to Polaris Wireless. “They can opt in; they can opt out all by text,” Hsiung said. “We liked that because it gives the officer a choice.”

Once opted in, commanders can identify the officers’ movements and location.

Officer tracking technology map

According to Polaris Wireless, technology developed by Locaid provides the officer’s location information, which can be displayed on the Altus tracking system.

During the concert, 70 uniformed and plain-clothed Mountain View police officers were assigned to patrol the area and divided into 20 teams, Hsiung said. Because the police were piloting a new technology, the department would not disclose the name of the concert venue.

Prior to the concert, the officers were given a choice to participate in the pilot, and less than 10 percent declined. To keep the pilot on a controlled scale, Hsiung said only 20 of the officers who agreed to participate (one from each team) received the opt-in text message.

At the end of the event, those same 20 officers received a second text message to disconnect from the tracking system.

According to Bhavin Shah, Polaris Wireless’ vice president of marketing and business development, the tracking technology is intended to increase an officer’s safety. Patrol vehicles are often equipped with GPS tracking, but location services don't follow an officer after he or she leaves the vehicle.

With further focus on analytics, information gathered from the tracking technology could potentially help police identify crime hotspots, Shah said. “If you knew where everybody was at a given time and you overlay that on a crime map, you could make sure that officers are always present in certain areas where crime activity is high based on time of day and day of the week,” he said.

Officer location data collected from the September concert was plotted on an aerial view image of the venue to identify when and where the 20 officers moved to throughout the day. Shah said while the tracking took place, the police department’s field commander could look at a screen displaying the aerial view, see where the officers were and make decisions based on their location points. Over the course of the two days, the officers made 100 arrests. 

According to Hsiung, there are no immediate plans to deploy the technology departmentwide, and he considered the pilot to be more of a “pre-beta” phase.

“We’re just seeing what this could do for us,” Hsiung said.

Sarah Rich is a former staff writer for Government Technology.