When we look at technology that affects governments we generally think of the US federal government—a huge, unwieldy bureaucracy that crosses state lines and needs to communicate with itself constantly—but often we forget that small cities and even police departments are no less in need of upgrades. So when I went to speak with the Salinas Police Department of California about how they tackle their technology needs, I first needed to get an idea of how they used computers to do their jobs.
By now, everyone’s gotten used to seeing TV shows that show police cars decked out with technology, often with their own hardened laptop embedded in the dash so that officers can quickly look up information (or enter reports) next to their fancy GPS or perhaps some other gizmo. For the most part, though, officers still rely on their radios and the quick fingers of a dispatcher for most things—and some police departments were still running mostly on paper or recordings when it came to reports.
This is the story of how a police department moved from thousands of cassettes a month to digital file transfer in the snap of a finger, thanks to Citrix’s ShareFile.
The Audio History of Salinas PD
Not too long ago, I got a chance to speak with Sgt. Michael Groves of Salinas PD about how they took reports from officers in the field and got them archived.
He says that since the late 80’s the police department had used cassettes in order to allow officers to dictate reports about their in-field operations. While this alleviated much of the paperwork that officers would have to do—we’ve all seen the image of an officer sitting in the rain, tucked in their patrol car in a dark parking lot doing paperwork—it meant that the recordings still had to be transcribed onto paper and then archived. To do this, Salinas PD employs a data center of transcribers who listen to each report and dutifully type them into an archival system for later retrieval.
At a near constant of one-thousand to two-thousand cassettes a month being sent in this was quickly becoming a bugbear for the police department.
The Need to Securely Transport Audio Files Over the Internet to Transcribers
About two years ago, says Sgt. Groves, the total number of cassettes coming in and the unreliability of the method—leaving chances for reports to get lost or corrupted—had become too much for them to handle and they started to see much more modern solutions.
They’d opted for a system called Pocket Dictate because it runs nicely on iOS devices and the PD could supply iPods to their officers to act in the place of the cassette recorders. This also meant that the files could be transferred electronically—however, the size of the reports quickly exceeded what could be handled by e-mail and they felt the need to set up a secure FTP drop off to transfer those files to the transcriber center.
Representatives from the PD went on the hunt for a solution that would give them ease-of-use, reliability, and the security to know that the recorded reports wouldn’t be leaked. They met with people from ShareFile who showed them that ShareFile also runs nicely on iOS and could readily take files from PocketDictate, securely transfer them to a central depository, from where the transcribers could grab them and do their work.
Sgt. Groves explains that the entire PD didn’t wait a moment to rid themselves of cassettes with the aid of ShareFile. “The switch went directly from cassettes to ShareFile,” said Groves in an interview. “The transition was painless; seamless and very helpful.”
The Practical Side of Secure File Transfer
With their newfound use of ShareFile to take the place of cassettes, Salinas PD could even allow officers to bring their own device as long as it ran the dictation software and the secure transfer app (and ShareFile runs on many mobile devices.) However, officers who didn’t have a smartphone at their disposal could still ask the department to issue them an official iPod if they needed.
Many of the use cases that we see at SiliconANGLE happen to be about how some technology made a corporate department work faster or better; but a police department is a slightly different organism. Their work directly affects the lives and safety of entire neighborhoods—the reports that might get dictated by a police officer have impact on the community. Worse, the police work directly in places where “bad guys” operate and some of them are getting even more technically savvy.
As I’ve noted, many enterprises are looking for ways to make sure employees can deliver information securely (as I’ve written in my “Solving the Dropbox Problem” article). There’s a trade off between convenience and security and for a police department ShareFile straddles it nicely.
I say this in an era where we’ve seen police outfits become the victims of hackers bent on mischief—although fortunately not directed malicious intent. Such as when Anonymous leaked reports from a Texan sheriff’s office to the public or when LulzSec hit the AZDPS with their own data heist.
Products such as ShareFile that operate in the secure file transfer space may become even more necessary for smaller government outfits who need to send information over the Internet that might be interesting to both mischievous and malicious hackers. Combine that with helping the Salinas PD do away with what probably amounted to hundreds of pounds of cassette tapes and they’ve go a recipe for happier officers and potentially a safer community.