For the first time in the department’s history, smartphones and tablets will be getting into the hands of roughly 34,500 New York Police Department (NYPD) officers over the next three years, thanks to $160 million in funds received through a major forfeiture from a French bank in June.
The new NYPD Mobility Initiative, unveiled by city officials on Oct. 23, should enhance the department’s mobile communications by putting modern smartphones and tablet computers into the crime-fighting arsenals of street cops. The money for the program comes from criminal asset forfeiture funds secured by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and from recent sanctions cases, according to the city.
The money will allow the city to buy up to 41,000 mobile devices, including smartphones, tablet computers and other devices that will aid officers in protecting the city’s residents and visitors, said New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio in a statement. “We must have 21st century tools to deal with 21st century threats, and this infusion of new resources will arm our officers with the technology and information they need to fight crime and protect the city against terrorism more efficiently and more effectively,” he said. “In an emergency, every minute counts, and this initiative will allow our officers in the field to get up-to-date, accurate information and process critical information anywhere in the city.”
Starting in January 2015, the money will be used over three years to upgrade NYPD’s mobile technology platform, said city officials. As well as put some 35,000 smartphones into the hands of city police officers, funds will also be used to install ruggedized tablet computers in up to 6,000 police cars.
The equipment will supplement existing crime-fighting tools used by NYPD and other agencies over the last decade, including anti-terror technologies such as a mobile version of the city’s Domain Awareness System (DAS) that is used to detect and prevent terrorist acts. Money for the initiative will also be used to modernize and update this DAS platform as well as the city’s overall mobility platform, including hardware and applications, according to the city.
NYPD and the mayor’s office did not respond Oct. 24 to several eWEEK inquiries seeking more details about the initiative. Before deciding to create a mobility program for the entire department, NYPD conducted a pilot test with about 40 officers. When the initiative is fully implemented, all of the city’s police officers will receive and carry smartphones for communications for the first time, two sources confirmed for eWEEK.
For years, NYPD officers have communicated with each other and headquarters throughout the city using radios in their cars and on their uniforms, as well as in-car computers permanently mounted in their patrol vehicles. Many officers carry and use their own cell phones, but these are not connected to any city systems, making communication far from optimal in times of emergency. Some police supervisors carry department-issued cell phones, but until now, these were not officially available to all officers and supervisors.
NYPD Officers Getting City-Issued Smartphones, Tablets
That lack of smartphones didn’t even change following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York City, largely because of the significant cost of supplying a large department with equipment and supporting services. But elsewhere in the United States, a growing number of police departments have bought and distributed smartphones and tablets to their officers and are continuing to be a staple for crime-fighting.
For example, smartphone projects have been tested or implemented within the 79-member Redlands Police Department in California and in the Jefferson City Police Department in Tennessee over the past several years. However, those departments don’t have the 35,000 officers that NYPD has to outfit with the costly technology. For smaller departments, the price tag to place smartphones and tablets into the hands of officers is nowhere the expense of doing so in New York City.
“This significant investment will immeasurably enhance law enforcement and the criminal justice system, not only in Manhattan, but throughout the city,” New York District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance said in a statement. “By allocating funds secured as a result of criminal misconduct back into our communities, we are placing real-time data in the hands of every police officer. Whether preventing everyday street crime or a potential act of terrorism, this will enable officers to better protect New Yorkers, while at the same time creating a fairer criminal justice system.”
The new NYPD Mobility Initiative will provide officers with expanded search capabilities, including access to the majority of NYPD databases, as well as the ability to conduct various record checks from the field more quickly, according to the city. The new mobile devices will also enable them to directly receive information pertaining to 911 emergency calls, even before such calls are dispatched by radio. This is expected to lead to faster police responses to emergency calls.