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California police departments to deploy 'game-changer' app

The JusticeMobile app allows officers to check state and federal databases from the field using a smartphone or tablet.

September 09, 2013|By Kate Mather
  • California Atty. Gen. Kamala D. Harris has announced that police statewide will begin using a new application that allows them to check criminal databases.
California Atty. Gen. Kamala D. Harris has announced that police statewide… (Damian Dovarganes / Associated…)

California authorities looking to learn more about suspects will soon have a new tool in their technological arsenal: a mobile app.

The JusticeMobile application allows law enforcement officers to check state and federal criminal databases from the field using a smartphone or tablet, California Atty. Gen. Kamala D. Harris announced Monday. Although New York City police have tested a similar program, Harris' office said California was the first to use such an app on a statewide basis.

Police can use the secured app to check a suspect's background, without using patrol car computers or radioing other personnel back at the station to track down the information, officials said.

"We have mobile apps for everything from banking to board games on our phones," Harris said in a statement. "But, incredibly, law enforcement hasn't had the tools to access important criminal justice information on hand-helds and tablets until now."

About 600 San Francisco police officers were the first to test the app, a pilot program developed in part by a technology group there. The instant access to information was a "law enforcement game changer," said San Francisco police Officer Albie Esparza, a spokesman for the department.

Esparza said the app saved officers valuable time because they didn't have to return to their patrol cars or stations to track down information. Current technology did not allow officers in the field to use photos to verify a suspect's identity, Esparza said. The app does.

"If you have contact with a suspect, you can know right away whether they're wanted or not," Esparza said. "They can do a lot more in-depth investigation from the field — whether or not someone is allowed to have a firearm, whether they're on parole or probation."

"I don't know why we didn't do this before," he said.

Local law enforcement agencies will be responsible for covering the fee for the app, said Nick Pacilio, a spokesman for the state attorney general's office. For San Francisco police, that ran at $28 per phone, he said. Figures for other agencies were not available.

"Many rigorous security standards" were in place to protect information, the attorney general's office said, including password requirements, two-step authorization, encryption and prohibiting copying or screen captures. Pacilio said security concerns spotted during the pilot program were "worked out."

The Los Angeles Police Department was expected to be the next major agency to use the app, probably before the end of the year, Pacilio said. San Francisco police hoped to expand the technology to the rest of the department — an additional 1,000 officers — in the same time frame, Esparza said.

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