Friday, March 16, 2012

Location, location, location

I think that’s an old saw from the real estate business, but it also applies to the public safety enterprise.  Geography is incredibly important to police officers and firefighters.  Understanding where your resources are is important for a supervisor and a dispatcher.  It’s also important for a police officer or firefighter to have a general sense of where his or her colleagues are. It’s about both resource utilization and employee safety.  In an emergency, we’d all like to find the officer or firefighter who needs help.

During my career, keeping track of who’s where has always been accomplished via the radio.  You tell the dispatcher where you are at when called, you let the dispatcher know when you’ve arrived at the scene, and so forth.  You keep an ear tuned to your beat buddies’ radio traffic, so you’ve got a general idea where they are and what they’re doing. 

This is all about to change, with automated vehicle location, and with the embedded location services in a growing variety of mobile devices.  Such systems are not new, but in the past few years the technology has become much more approachable.  Today, I can whip up a sorta-kinda-AVL system with free apps on a group of smartphones.  In fact, I do just that with my family. 

Although some police and fire departments have used this technology for years, we are just beginning to experiment with it here in Lincoln. Last week, we lit up GPS receivers in a handful of our Lincoln Fire & Rescue vehicles.  When three of these units all responded to this incident yesterday afternoon, a snapped the screen shot below:




Anonymous said...

Preach safety all you want, it will be used by the admin to discipline the street officer. Just when we hoped it couldn't get worse.

Anonymous said...

Won't this also allow the management to view how fast the police cars were traveling, where they parked, and how long they sat still. Basically like having a gps tracker on a bad guys car, with no warrant needed. Lots of departments with this technology have had their unions fight their use, and review, to be reviewed by the department only in case of emergencies etc.. To keep the department from using this back door hps tracker as a tool to witch hunt officers for discipline. Does LPD have any checks and balances in place for this type of thing, Or will the brass be able to review every officers gps nightly to see who went faster than 10mph over the limit to a hot call?

Anonymous said...

Some time ago a central Nebraska police department went to AVL and officers were concerned that it would be used to discipline officers.

The Chief reply was along these lines. I do not need AVL to tell me that sometimes officers stay to long at the doughnut shop or speed.

To my knowledge no officer of that department has been disciplined because of information from the AVL.

Car 54

Anonymous said...

Last I checked police and fire officers were public employees, paid with taxpayers dollars, and driving city-owned vehicles. Maybe if your that paranoid that your boss will know where you are, you're doing something you shouldn't be, and you need to reconsider your career choice. Do you really think people don't notice it when a fire truck is at the grocery store, or three police cars are at Bagels and Joe for an hour, or an emergency vehicle is driving so fast that it's causing a greater hazard than could possibly exist at the call it's going to? Admittedly, I don't think it is typical, but it happens, and if a GPS system makes people think twice, maybe that's a good thing. Surely the fact that everyone is recording video or taking pictures on a cell phone has helped a police officer keep a temper in check a time or two.

Tom Casady said...


It's just a fact of life that the ability of truck drivers, firefighters, bus drivers, police officers, and everyone else to be invisible has declined with the proliferation of CCTV, access control systems, embedded GPS, ubiquitous cell phones, and a host of other technologies.  As car 54 points out, it doesn't take an AVL system to determine that police officers occasionally stray off their area of assignment, or overstay a coffee break.  During my 17 years as police chief, the rare disciplinary reports for such things were quite egregious violations that were embarrasingly blatant. The purpose of AVL is not to spy on employees, it is to provide greater situational awareness, enhance safety, and improve efficiency.  But yes, if someone decides it's a good idea to spend 2 hours cooped up somewhere, or to cruise out of their district several miles to admire the flowers on a daily basis, it will make that more evident to his or her coworkers--and supervisors.


AVL systems retain log files for a user-determined time period.  These get large quickly, so are often purged at a relatively short interval.  While it is technically possible to retrieve such information before it is overwritten, it either requires access to the server and a significant effort, or software tools within the product designed for that specific purpose. I have no interest in spelunking through log files to find out who drove 10 MPH over the limit.  Using AVL data to conduct policy enforcement for minor violations is destructive of productive employee-employer relationships. If the presence of AVL, an audio or video recording device, an in-car camera system, a traffic camera, or aomething else causes an employee to think twice about doing something he or she already knows is unwise, I agree with 8:25--that's not necessarily a bad thing.  If management really wanted to nitpick, you have no idea what kind of electronic trail is already being left by police officers, firefighters (and others) as they go about their day right now--no AVL needed.  From my standpoint, to ignore this very valuable technology because a few people are concerned it might expose their poor work habits would be foolish.  For my entire career I've listened to police officers voicing concerns about "officer safety."  That is certainly an important thing to be concerned with, but there are those occasional individuals who carry six magazines of ammo, yet turn right around and fail to buckle their seatbelt, or use their high-visabilty vest, or eschew AVL that would provide their dispatchers and coworkers with precise information about their location when the chips are down, or help everyone visualize the perimeter when a suspect search is underway. 

Steve said...

All my life, there has been a segment of society that felt the cops were the bad guys. A similar effect is present in any workplace; the feeling that the boss is out to get you. My gut feeling is that much of this is learned as a child through the actions and words of parents. At some point in time, some of these people probably had good reasons for their point of view. Certainly there have been bad cops and bad bosses who helped promote this mindset among citizens and employees.

Still, if you haven't done anything wrong, and are not planning to, what's to worry about? If you are a respectable, law-abiding citizen, you should be glad when scofflaws and those who don't pull their weight at work get what's coming to them.

Anonymous said...

Quoted by the Director "I have no interest in spelunking through log files to find out who drove 10 MPH over the limit."

Wow, I wish the PD felt that way, LPD is so ticket hungry to hand out speeding tickets. It's a bit of a shame a person can run a stoplight right in front of a cop and he won't do anything about it.

Double standards have existed in law enforcement in Lincoln for quite some time, so this is really nothing new.

And as you know Tom, AVL will tell you were the officers vehicles, but won't tell you about the porno movies they are watching in the sub-station, will it?

Anonymous said...

How many of the GPS ankle bracelets are in use in Lincoln and Lancaster County? Have any crimes been solved by looking at the data from these devices to match the times and location of various offenders against the time and location of crime?

It just isn't possible to lock up ALL the petty thieves and those that commit non-violent crimes repeatedly but IF they know that their ankle device can send them to the lockup maybe they will change behavior.

Gun Nut

Anonymous said...

Well, with administrators searching mdt messages for things written about themselvea, I can't see how this won't be used as another tool to proactively hunt out officers. Why not make a policy stating the proper circumstances for the data to be reviewed by administrators etc... May be used to see who is parking their cruisers in the "wrong spots" to aid in additional write ups for the same.

Steve said...

Sounds like 10:07 got a speeding ticket recently.

Personally, I'd like to see an all-out week long effort by LPD to ticket every driving offense they see and do nothing else that isn't an emergency. Two or three weeks of this a year for a few years, and maybe we could drive around without worrying so much if that other guy is going to stop, yield, signal, or whatever. Don't announce it to the media, though, like the speed traps you do now. Let's have a little fun and surprise everyone.

Anonymous said...

Gun Nut,
LSO had a great case last year involving a GPS monitoring bracelet. The data later confirmed the suspect's locations during a series of credit card frauds. He was sentenced to 20 months - five years in prison.

Anonymous said...

There are a couple of features which I know can be invaluable to a captain responding to a fire in a big truck or engine is one to indicate direction. Whether it is direction of travel or an icon indicating which end is the front of the vehicle, it can go a long way towards boxing said apparatus in somewhere where backing up a couple of blocks to leave the area might be otherwise avoided.

Also proximity alarms can be utilized to warn the driver of police or fire vehicles that they are close to another when responding with lights or lights/siren on. Meeting at an uncontrolled intersection might be an issue. Configurations on a variety of software can be set up so no alerts come on when the vehicle nearby is traveling in the same direction as occurs when the entourage is coming.

You preach situational awareness regularly. I see great possibilities with the fire service where the officer is viewing the screen and not driving. Unless the cruiser is staffed with two people, where are the driver's eyes when he is responding to a hot call? I bet the computer is one of the LAST things on his mind!

Tom Casady said...


I understand your point about direction. I'm not sure how a GPS receiver could determine which way a stationary object faces, though. As I recall, my Garmin twirls its little auto icon around a bit until I move down the road a ways and it figures out my direction of travel (assuming I'm not doing 30 MPH in reverse!). Some software engineer has probably figured this out already, though. I'm just not familiar with the AVL products or techniques that are out there.

AVL in a one-person vehicle would have to be like the consumer GPS: glance at it while moving, but no futzing around. I've wondered aloud in my blog before about the possibility that policing will tend back towards more two person units for this very reason.

I don't know about the proximity alarm. You'd have to use an I/O switch that understands both vehicles are in an emergency response mode, or the thing would go crazy in quarters. I suppose that's not too difficult from a technical standpoint. I haven't seen it, though. Anything is possible.

Anonymous said...

I'd imagine that dispatch could use this to shorten response times for some calls, as they could send the two closest units (for police). The downside is that sometimes the closest unit, isn't actually the closest. The "distance the crow flies" on a map, isn't always a realistic distance a officer would have to travel. Especially in NW Lincoln where several arterial streets are severed by construction.
Hopefully dispatchers take this into account.

I could also see units staying in less busy parts of their beats, to avoid being the closest unit and getting more calls than others.

Will the officers and fire units be able to see each other on maps as well? Similar to " blue force tracker" the military uses. On those you could see other "friendly units", message them or plot things on the maps and all the other units could see this. It was pretty cool, and helped prevent "blue on blue" (friendly fire) incidents.