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Brian Cain

Brian Cain is a sergeant with the Holly Springs (Ga.) Police Department, and is known as the "Millennial cop" on Twitter. He has been in law enforcement since 2000. He hosts and produces a podcast for Millennials in law enforcement.



Michael Bostic

Michael Bostic

Mike Bostic, of Raytheon Corp.'s Civil Communication Solutions group, specializes in open architecture, systems integration of communications and data programs. Mike spent 34 years with the LAPD. He managed IT and facility development, as well as the SWAT Board of Inquiry, which developed new command-and-control systems.
Technology

Why Is Public Safety Behind the Tech Curve?

Outdated methods for upgrading public safety software have resulted in the public—including the bad guys—having more advanced tools than you.

April 09, 2013  |  by Rick Smith

Photo via FutUndBeidl/Flickr.
Photo via FutUndBeidl/Flickr.

Technology is not only changing, it is accelerating, getting faster every day. The smart phone you probably carry in your pocket is more than 1,000 times faster and has more than 10 million times more memory than the guidance computer of the Apollo Moon Lander, which 40 years ago was the most sophisticated technological achievement in human history.

My mother was pregnant with me when Neil Armstrong took a giant leap for mankind onto the lunar surface. Imagine how people would have reacted if she told them in 1969 that her son would one day carry a computer in his pocket thousands of times more powerful than the one that guided the astronauts to the moon and back.

It's astonishing to look back at the advances in technology over the past decades. But it's even more impressive to realize that the advances of the last 40 years will be dwarfed by the advances in the coming years. Unfortunately, unless government agencies change the way they procure and implement technology, they will be left behind.

People expect government agencies to have cutting-edge technology far beyond what we have as consumers. After all that's what we are shown in movies and on television shows. From what they've seen in the film "Minority Report" or on the TV show "CSI," people have an expectation that those entrusted to protect them have the most advanced technology imaginable to do the job.

It's not an unreasonable expectation. We spend hundreds of billions of dollars on public safety and homeland security, and we expect the mission critical functions of our society to have access to the best technology available to keep us safe.

So how is it that every group of law enforcement officers I have asked tell me overwhelmingly that they have much more advanced technology in their homes as consumers than they have at work as a public safety officer? What happened that catapulted consumers right past the government in technology?

The answer has to do with a shift in technology delivery that went mainstream about 20 years ago, the Internet.

Starting in the 1990s, the Internet, which had been developed decades before for the Defense Department and high-level scientific researcher, spread across the globe faster than any technology in human history, connecting computers and people into a global network. In the early 2000s, the Internet went airborne. High-speed data networks now connect the smart phones in our pockets to the most advanced data centers in existence such as Google's massive data centers that are continuously scanning and categorizing the sum total of human knowledge online and making it available at the touch of our thumbs to a glass screen just about anywhere in the world.

The Internet began as a system for transmitting messages and e-mail. Then it grew to transport more complex media like photos and images. As technology and bandwidth improved, we began to download music and now, movies.

As it has grown, the Internet has disrupted industry after industry. Packaged music CDs, which were brand new a few decades ago, will go out of production shortly. Apple's iTunes Store started selling music in April 2003, and by 2008 it had passed Walmart as the world's largest music retailer. Similarly, online movie downloads came out of nowhere to crush the once mighty Blockbuster.

The Internet has also allowed the business world to get connected in real time. The majority of financial transactions now happen online. Stock trades and money transfers happen at the speed of light over fiber optic cables spanning the globe.

Today, however, you don't hear a lot of technological innovators speaking about the Internet. Instead they reference the "cloud" in discussions of how to deliver services and products online.

The term "cloud" is just another term used to describe the delivery of technology over the Internet (the term comes from network diagrams that used a cloud to represent the Internet). Just as the Internet transformed the way we send messages and information, it is now transforming the way technology providers deliver capabilities to customers.

When was the last time you went as a consumer to a software store, bought a disk, took it home, and installed it on your computer or mobile device? If you've done this recently, savor the memory because this mode of delivering technology on physical disks is rapidly going extinct.

We now shop for apps on our smart phones, click, and seconds later we have a new capability. The consumer market has transitioned almost entirely to the "cloud." Why? The advantages are easy to understand. It's faster, more reliable, and costs far less. (Just compare the cost of apps at 99 cents a piece to the packaged software you bought at a now-defunct Egghead Software or Comp USA store 15 years ago.)

However, the greatest advantage of the cloud delivery model is one that is not immediately obvious: speed. Technology can now evolve and change and be delivered to end-users in minutes instead of months.

Facebook is an enormously complex application, built by thousands of engineers, connecting more than a billion users in dozens of languages in every corner of the globe. Even at this massive scale, Facebook has the ability to roll out new features every week or even every day.

How? It's only possible because of the cloud / Internet delivery model. Imagine if Facebook had to send disks out to every user to install technology updates on his or her computer, with user manuals in every language? Impossible.

I recently met with the brass from a major U.S. law enforcement agency, and I asked them how often they upgrade their IT systems. Answer: every 5 years.

How is it that the broader world of technology is evolving on a daily basis, yet public safety agencies are moving on a yearly or "every five years" basis? The answer: the law enforcement technology space hasn't been disrupted  yet. Our industry is still copying tapes and disks and transporting them by hand. We are delivering technology in the mail truck while the rest of the world has gone online.

This status quo cannot survive. Public safety cannot fall ever further behind. Fortunately, leadership at all levels sees the need for change.

The federal government has launched a "Cloud-First" Policy to drive adoption of Internet connected technology delivery across the government sector. In August 2012, an Integrated Justice Information Systems (IJIS) Institute bulletin concluded, "The spread of cloud computing in government in general, and in public safety and justice in particular, is inevitable."

So next time you reach into your pocket for your phone to send a message, transfer money from your mobile banking app, or maybe place a stock trade in your e-Trade account, imagine what capabilities you will have when law enforcement agencies connects to the cloud and this rapid pace of technological innovation comes to public safety. Rest assured, you won't be waiting too long.

Rick Smith is CEO of TASER International. The company's EVIDENCE.com product is cloud-based evidence management software designed to work in tandem with its AXON Flex officer worn video system. This is the first in a series of blogs discussing the cloud and its potential for revolutionizing public safety IT.

Tags: Cloud Computing, Law Enforcement IT, TASER, TASER Axon


Comments (1)

Displaying 1 - 1 of 1

Trigger @ 4/10/2013 7:08 AM

Back in 1978 we were using manual and old school electric typewriters, then came the "new generation" of computers with the DOS operating system and the 5 inch floppy disks. Just ask a kid today how to use a new piece of technology, your head will explode at what they know. Maybe it's time to hang up the gunbelt after 35 years and play with the ole' Atari 2600 to keep the aliens away from Earth.

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