No matter what you want, chances are, there’s an app for it.
In today’s world of smartphones and mobile devices, apps are a driving force, and law enforcement agencies are buying into the movement.
That comes as no surprise to many, as a 2015 Pew Research Center study showed 68 percent of adults in the United States have smartphones. That figure is up from 35 percent in 2011.
Closer to home, a 2013 census estimate showed that 79.2 percent of Kentuckians have computers, which includes desktops, laptops, tablets and smartphones.
The age of apps and social media have rendered the wanted poster obsolete as many agencies have adopted, or are in the process of adopting, a more tech-savvy approach to keep up with the changing times.
Ashland Police Lt. Ryan Conley said since his agency created an app in 2012, nearly 5,000 residents in the eastern Kentucky city of 22,000 have it downloaded. Conley, with the blessing of retired Chief Rob Ratliff, current Chief Todd Kelly, and Maj. Mark McDowell, spent close to a year learning code to produce the “Ashland Police Department” app for Android and iOS.
The payoff has been huge, especially in the area of community dialogue with the police department, Conley said.
“We always thought we had a good relationship with our community,” Conley said. “But now, we have a back and forth relationship with the community. It is nothing for a resident to get a hold of the chief or whomever they want to get in touch with by using the app.”
The Ashland app was created so residents could have quick, easy access to many services, including paying parking fines, anonymously reporting criminal activity and providing other tips and photos. The app also allows the police department to send push notifications in the event of emergencies such as road closures and Amber Alerts.
“It empowered the residents to report things that were not 911 calls,” Conley said.
A similar story unfolded some 150 miles away in Florence in northern Kentucky.
“In recent years, we’ve ramped up outreach and wanted to stay in touch with people as much as possible,” Florence Police Cpl. Ryan Harvey said. “It started with Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and then the app (“Florenceapp” on Android, “Florence Police” on iOS) was the next step.”
The Florence app features the ability for residents to obtain information ranging from accident reports to posting photos and offering crime tips.
Both departments’ apps are available for Android and iOS devices.
The Kentucky State Police also use an Android app named “KSPOLICE” (“Kentucky State Police” on iOS). That app includes a voice-messaging tip line, the ability to send photos and access to the sex-offender registry.
Conley and Harvey said the apps mirror their departments’ respective social-media accounts.
“We do have a pretty good social-media following, and this is just another avenue for residents to communicate with us,” Harvey said. “We now have several thousand people who use the app.”
At first, it was a Facebook page. Then the former chief thought outside the box, Conley said.
“Our first Facebook post was avoiding 13th Street because there was a fire,” Conley said. “Well, hell, everybody wanted to see the fire and they showed up. That wasn’t what we were going for. The next time we posted a photo. This time nobody came because we had a picture with it.”
After the social-media success, Ratliff approached Conley and asked about those residents not on Facebook.
“So that’s where our app came from,” Conley said.
Once Ashland launched its app, it soon discovered through its citizens police academy, residents wanted more than just the arrests.
“They said a small part of your job is arresting and citing people,” Conley said. “The public never sees police fixing problems and doing good deeds. They told us we needed to harness this idea and get that information out.”
As a result, APD began posting things like its bike patrol in parks, and the public ate it up.
“These are things we totally took for granted,” Conley said.
Ashland tied their social-media accounts into the app, meaning posts on Facebook and Twitter automatically posted on the app.
Harvey said Florence’s app success has prompted a greater app promotion effort by the police department.
“In various places throughout the county we have tabletop displays with QR codes, and if residents scan it, they will be prompted to Google or iTunes to download the app,” he said.
Trial and Error
When coming up with an app to serve the Ashland Police Department and residents, Conley said he approached it like a police officer. As it turns out, that was not the right approach, he said.
“We first introduced the app to the citizens’ police academy and asked them what they thought,” Conley said. “Then the whole app changed. What we as police thought was useful was not nearly as useful as what the citizens thought.”
Conley said he discovered residents wanted more input.
Over a process of many months, Conley tweaked the app, adding features to pay parking tickets, a water-bill-payment feature and an elected official’s link.
From a policing standpoint, Conley approached the app from an open-records perspective.
“We used the open-records act as a guide,” he said. “We didn’t want anything that we don’t normally include in a press release.”
Both officers say apps are gaining momentum and see it as an integral part of policing in today’s law enforcement world.
“I think apps are important in today’s world because smartphones are not going to go anywhere,” Conley said. “The way people are getting used to having everything readily available is not going to go away. It’s a great tool.”
Top Law Enforcement apps
While many Kentucky police agencies are actively using or coming up with apps to help connect to their community and fight crime, nationally there are some law enforcement apps worth considering. Policemag.com compiled a list of the top 10 law enforcement apps, broken down by Apple and Android devices. They are:
- Police Partner: This app takes away the need for clunky notebooks. The interface is easy to navigate and provides fields to fill in such as witnesses, vehicles, suspects, case numbers and other information one would expect in a police report.
- Spanish for Police: This app provides Spanish commands and questions organized in basic law enforcement categories such as officer safety, arrests, searching suspects, Miranda warning, DUI/HGN and others.
- MobileArms for Glock: This app provides details of every Glock model, search by model or caliber, photos, company history, and a list of gun dealers and shooting ranges in every state.
- Offender Locator: This app provides locational date from registered offender databases in all 50 states. Its GPS function allows officers to search for offenders via address, current location and offender name.
- N-Number: This app allows officers to get detailed information on aircraft via the “N” or tail number required by the FAA for registration of civil aircraft.
- Droid Law: The app allows officers to search section of state criminal codes on their mobile devices.
- Smart Tools: The app provides tools for length and angle, distance and height, sound and vibration as well as a compass and metal detector.
- U.S. Cop: The app features tabs such as Index, Case Law, Training and Messages. It allows for easy reference for officers on the street.
- Police Pad: Another app that eliminates the need for notebooks. It categorizes events into tabs such as New Call, On Scene, Interview, Arrest, Ticket, Statement, Car Accident and Booked.
- Cargo Decoder: Provides officers a guide to the material stored in trucks or tankers. A voice search allows for fast querying, and partial UN/NA numbers or material names are recognized.