Smartphone lets NYPD see arrest files, police photos, and DMV data all at once
The Police Department has distributed about 400 dedicated Android smartphones to its officers, part of a pilot program begun quietly last summer. The phones, which cannot make or receive calls, enable officers on foot patrol, for the first time, to look up a person’s criminal history and verify their identification by quickly gaining access to computerized arrest files, police photographs, and state Department of Motor Vehicles databases.The technology offers extraordinary levels of detail about an individual, including whether the person has ever been “a passenger in a motor vehicle accident,” a victim of a crime or in one instance, a drug suspect who has been known by the police to hide crack cocaine “in his left sock,” according to Officer Donaldson.“I tell them, ‘I’m going to see your picture,’ ” the officer said. “They don’t realize we have this technology. They can’t tell me a lie because I know everything.”The phone application is significantly different from the computers currently installed in roughly 2,500 patrol cars. With the laptops, the Internet connection can be slow and spotty in some of areas of the city, and officers have to log in to separate databases with multiple passwords to retrieve information.“With one entry point, you can get to a lot of different databases — quickly,” Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said in an interview on Wednesday.Without the phone, officers who stop a person for a violation, for example, can sometimes get bare-bones information by radioing in a name to a police dispatcher, police said.“Our dispatcher will tell us if they have a warrant or not but it’s a simple yes or no answer,” said Officer Donaldson, who is assigned to the Housing Bureau. “I don’t know if the guy is wanted for murder or for not paying a parking summons. We rarely know. Now we know.”The phone is particularly helpful when officers respond to a call of a domestic dispute. It allows officers to know how many times police have been previously summoned to the residence, providing details on those incidents. Typically, officers do not have this information, Commissioner Kelly said.Donna Lieberman, the executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said though the new phone technology held “enormous promise to improve policing and public safety,” she had concerns about “whether it will become a vehicle to round up the usual suspects, to harass people” based on information in the police databases.