In mid-2013, New Zealand's 12,500-strong police force became the first law enforcement organisation in the region to fully equip its frontline with mobile devices, in an effort to stave off $150 million worth of government austerity measures.
Nearly three years on, the man behind the mobility program, superintendent Jevon McSkimming, travelled across the Tasman to share what he has learnt with his Australian peers at the Informa Police Technology Forum in Canberra.
iPads are almost certainly going to be too big
The first stage of the NZ Police’s mobility drive saw it distribute 4500 Apple iPads to its officers, with an iPhone added as a communications adjunct.
But officers “vote with their feet”, he said, and started leaving the comparatively bulky tablet on their desk or in the car, opting to do everything on the phone instead.
“The commissioner made it clear to me he wanted me to mobilise his people and not his cars,” McSkimming said.
He has now removed the iPads from circulation and is rolling out an updated fleet of 9000 iPhone 6 Plus devices.
Don't make the station comfortable
Cultural push factors are critical to achieving true mobility, according to McSkimming.
“If the watchhouse or the muster room is the best place for an officer to hang out then it doesn’t matter what cool technology they have, they’re still going to hang out in the stations,” he said.
As a result, he has initiated a deliberate fade-out of desktops inside police offices and an overhaul of the desktop platform.
Don’t automate things that shouldn’t be automatic
Three years into its journey, the NZ Police has ironed out some of the evidentiary challenges that can arise unexpectedly when investigations reach the prosecution stage.
McSkimming reminded his peers that officers sometimes need to be brought back into the data entry process in order to ensure a chain of evidence stands up in a court of law.
He offered infringement tickets as an example.
“With our ticketing app we can automatically geolocate where the infringement occurred,” he said.
“But as soon as we’re in court and a lawyer questions the constable about whether or not they actually entered the time and the place, they can’t say yes. A lawyer will suggest it was all the computer and they were never really at that location”."
“There are times where you must bring constables back into consciousness so they actively participate in what they are entering into the application,” he said.
Become a good guinea pig
NZ Police is working to replace its vendor contracts with long-term, collaborative and enduring relationships.
One way it sees it can achieve this is by positioning itself as a good test bed for vendors to innovate within a live operational context.
Its mobility partner Vodafone has established an innovation lab within the force that sees about 100 constables give feedback on service design every month. NZ Police has also signed an IP-sharing deal with IT support firm Hexagon.
McSkimming said this means more delivered to his organisation without dipping into scarce funding.
“I need them to go and sell in America or in Australia or the UK. Because a dollar spent in the US is a dollar I don’t have to spend in New Zealand.”
Don’t create “paper behind glass”
The superintendent warned against developing mobility solutions that are simply “paper behind glass” when they go digital.
In the domestic violence space, the force is trying to change the underlying business processes that suck up precious police time, he said.
Officers face two hours of paperwork for every DV visit, so are tempted to save time at the victim’s end of the interaction. But when that might be the fourth or fifth visit to the same household, he said, “why are we getting an officer to enter the same data for the fifth time?”
“Why can’t we automatically consume what we already know?”
Balance security with usability
The first iterations of the NZ Police iPhones featured an eight character login, with mandatory upper and lower case letters, numbers and different keystrokes.
The impact of this was devastating on take-up, McSkimming said, and threatened to undermine the NZ Police’s significant investment in the program.
But once he got permission to replace the password with a six-digit numeric code, usage stats shot up about 40 percent overnight.
These days, officers unlock their devices with a thumbprint.
Make the most of voice-to-text
Siri is the new frontier in McSkimming’s efficiency mission.
“Why are you buying real-estate for keypads”, he asked, when voice-to-text data entry saves so much time?
The NZ Police is building Siri into many of its latest applications so if there is any narrative to be recorded, such as in the case of a speeding ticket, the officer can simply speak straight into the device.