Pandemic forces public safety leaders to digitize workflows and fight misinformation

IDC smart cities analyst predicts cities will start setting policy around acceptable use before buying surveillance tech like drones and cameras.


Image: IDC

Police officers, firefighters, and 911 dispatchers are seeing the real-world potential of digital transformation as artificial intelligence, mobile tools, and collaboration platforms help them cope with the dual crises of COVID-19 and misinformation. 

In a webinar hosted on Tuesday, Aug. 11, IDC analyst Alison Brooks explained how these top 10 technology trends are changing the daily work of first responders and other public safety officials: 

  1. Radically rethinking public safety workflow
  2. Technology as a force multiplier: Artificial intelligence
  3. Technology as a force multiplier: Drones and robots
  4. “Techlash” against surveillance and tracking
  5. The misinformation apocalypse and truth decay
  6. The future of digital trust and acceptable tech use
  7. Social media platform data and the rise of encryption
  8. First responders as a sensor
  9. The mobile-first workforce
  10. The importance of digital evidence and digital intelligence

Brooks, the research vice president for smart cities and communities at IDC, said that the pandemic is influencing each trend in a different way. 

SEE: Natural language processing: A cheat sheet (TechRepublic)

“Departments are getting opportunities to test the value of this emerging tech and getting a better understanding of their value to day-to-day operations going forward,” she said.

Brooks said that it is easier to understand at this moment how COVID-19 is changing public safety on a daily basis but that it will take longer to understand how the racial justice movement will do so.  

Digitizing the public safety workflow

Brooks said that the workflow trend, which essentially means digitizing it, will be the most transformative both on a day-to-day level and for the overall system.

Brooks gave the example of a program in Holland working to reduce the average six-day wait for processing a fingerprint. The Dutch police are using vans equipped with labs to process physical and digital evidence right at the crime scene. Brooks said 11 vehicles could cover the country and process DNA, video evidence, and fingerprints as well as digital evidence. 

The growing use of artificial intelligence (AI) is also influencing daily workflows for police officers. AI platforms are doing image identification of faces, objects, words, and tattoos, pattern detection and analysis, and video and audio transcription.

Brooks described AI and drones and robots as force multipliers for public safety officials. She used the example of the Chula Vista Police Department using a drone as a first responder. The California police department started the program in 2018 to respond to crimes in progress, fires, traffic accidents, and domestic violence incidents. The drone sends HD video footage to a command center  where the operator controls the drone and communicates with officers in the field.  The system also can send the video feed to the cell phones of first responders, supervisors, and other staff. 

According to the police department, the drone arrives at least a minute faster than a patrol unit.

Brooks said that the program has been accepted by community members because the department has been transparent about the guidelines that govern the program, including penalties for misuse. 

“You are going to see a tech market correction to balance between technology and social values,” she said.

Brooks also mentioned a drone program in Sendai City in Japan where drones are being used as an early warning system to alert residents about tsunamis and earthquakes. 

Brooks said that the pandemic also has forced the judicial system to go digital with both temporary workarounds and permanent solutions.

Evolving to a mobile-first workforce

The pandemic has influenced another component of this newly digitized workflow with police departments using  apps more frequently to reduce the need  for face-to-face contact. In Chicago, police officers are using Samsung’s DeX in Vehicle service

Officers can access computer-aided dispatch and other department systems to conduct background checks and complete reports. Photo and video evidence from Samsung phones also will be immediately accessible to attach to reports. About half the force already had those phones when the pilot project started in late 2019.

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