It’s the 21st century. If you’ve got a smartphone, you’ve got an incredible amount of information in your pocket, yet most police departments in the US are sadly lagging in technology. Many departments don’t have department-wide email and any information that goes into the system still has to be filled out on paper forms then hand-delivered to clerks who input the information.
But soon, the San Francisco PD will be getting a police database app that they can have on a phone in their pocket, so that at a glance, they can identify suspects, get real time maps to where they’re going, look up license plates, driver’s licenses and possible warrants.
A demo of the app showed a striking future for police technology. Officers can upload images, dictate notes (transcribed with speech-to-words capabilities), capture audio interviews with witnesses and drop map pins to other locations of note while still at the crime scene — and all of that information is uploaded to the case file in real time. So when one officer flags a crime — say, a stolen car — an officer with the tablet nearby would be able to see what’s happening and get there.
“This is the bat computer,” said Suhr.
Perhaps the most impressive single feature was the license plate recognition software. Snapping a photo of a plate instantly pulls all of the relevant information into a case file.
Facial recognition is not currently part of the program but it won’t be far behind, said Susan Giffin, chief information officer at the SFPD. “It’s already here,” she noted, as software available to officers on their computers. That would seem to be one of the most powerful and potentially problematic uses of the app — not too hard to imagine a bad match leading to a false arrest.
Though database is now out of its beta phase — Giffin gleefully recounted how a robbery was solved thanks to much-needed keyword search functions while it was still being tested — the mobile app is still in development and with no set launch date.
For the fresh-faced cadets, though, the future is already here, as they’ll be trained on both the mobile app and the database. As Suhr put it, this year’s class “will never know a desktop computer.” While the police brass at the podium said they hoped to lead regionally with these programs, the tech guys went further, as Conway crowed, “This will be a national showcase for America in police work.”