Product Review: The Evolution of the Police Notebook
Written by CJ Kyle   

About eight years ago, I began looking for technology that would enable police officers to trade their paper notebooks in for digital ones. I combed the internet and the only possibility I could find at that time was a company in Europe. I did make a wonderful contact there but two-factor authentication and the absence of Canadian Cloud storage stopped me in my tracks (at the time I had no idea what 2FA even meant).


Mobile data-collection software allows administrators to see police officers' work being created in real time.
 
In February 2016, I attended a Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police conference on Information Management in Vancouver, British Columbia. On day one, I headed out at the morning break in search of some coffee and treats. I walked around the vendor booths and stumbled upon something called SceneDoc. I spoke with “the guy” in the booth. He explained SceneDoc as much as he could in five minutes before I had to return to the conference room for the next presentation. I could hardly wait for lunch so I could go back and hear more, which is exactly what I did. Wow, this is it, I thought to myself. This is exactly what I have been searching for. I made arrangements for “the guy,” Adrian Bubalo, to do a full SceneDoc presentation to myself and a couple of my colleagues at the end of the conference day. When Adrian finished showing us what SceneDoc was capable of, I was convinced that this was it. Adrian and I agreed that we would talk further in the days and weeks to come in an effort to put the wheels in motion for a pilot project.
 
On June 20, 2016 a crew from SceneDoc gathered in Vancouver and conducted a presentation at our headquarters in New Westminster to a group of about 65 people from ten police departments and a number of our key stakeholder partners, including Police Services, Motorola, Microsoft, and Samsung. It was a great event that absolutely exceeded my expectations. Following this presentation, we hit the go button on our SceneDoc pilot project. 

Start with the Right Philosophy
 
In order to understand the “how tos and what fors” that have driven my passion about digital notebooks and now digital evidence collection, first let me explain my “why”. In three simple words, “Because I care.” I care about the state of policing and the way in which it contributes to the criminal justice system and public safety; I care about the public who find themselves participating in a criminal justice system that is arduous, fraught with delays and bursting at the seams; and I care about this honorable calling to which I have devoted the past 27 years of my life. So I ask myself, How can I make it better? What can I do to improve our contribution in the future? 
 
Policing the Moving City
 
The Metro Vancouver Transit Police (Transit Police) work collaboratively with each of the jurisdictional police departments in Metro Vancouver to provide seamless policing across many communities. Transit Police is the only dedicated police service in Canada focused on reducing crime and disorder in and around the public transportation system. Patrolling 134 km (83 miles) of rail, 57 stations, 1,400 buses, and 200 bus routes (and growing), we serve 21 diverse municipalities and one First Nation Reserve. As recently described by a colleague, Transit Police is the thread that ties Vancouver area police agencies together.
 
Handwritten Notebooks
 

The Metro Vancouver Transit Police were looking to replace their officers' paper notebooks and handwritten notes with a digital solution.
 
Police officers are expected to keep notes about all substantial contacts they have with the public. If an officer is diligent, a police notebook should contain a wealth of intelligence about suspects, suspicious circumstances, and crime in general. Once that little notebook is full, it, and all that intelligence, gets chucked into a shoebox in the bottom of the officer’s locker. If it happens that the notes within the notebook are required for a court case, the police officer’s time is spent in front of a photocopier finding and copying pages and pages of notes.
 
What if those same notes could be searchable, forever? What if they could be compiled, PDF’d, analyzed, cut and pasted, or shared in near real time? What if every note automatically included the date and time, location, and weather? Most importantly, what if there was an audit trail of those notes that supported continuity for court purposes? This is a small portion of what we are now able to accomplish with SceneDoc’s mobile software.
 
The newest generation of police officers know their way around a smartphone better than I ever will. If I am going to be an effective leader, I must remain current. I cannot afford to let my generational thinking inhibit technological advancement. Should new members be made to conform to traditional methods and old processes because it’s the way we have always done things? I would rather celebrate their tech savviness than be afraid of and denounce their differences. When I started policing we did not have cell phones and we did not have computers in our cars. All our daily reports were hand-written in the office and Crown (court) reports were typed on a typewriter with no spellcheck. The art of handwritten notes seems to be fading. How many police agencies are having trouble convincing their new officers to write notes? How many court cases are being negatively impacted due to poor notes or a complete lack of notes, and how many Police Act (internal) investigations have occurred as a result? Police recruits are being issued the same model of notebook as I received when I started back in 1990. 
 
A Near Real Time View
 
On Canada Day 2016, I was assigned to be the on-call Gold Commander for the night. I was able to watch the night unfold through the eyes of our on-duty patrol officers. I was signed in to SceneDoc on my laptop from the comfort of my living room. Not only was I listening to the police radio but I could see in near real time photos, videos, and police notes as they were created. I have to say I was quite impressed with being able to combine the audio from the police radio with videos and images being uploaded from around the transit system. It is very easy to use and made me realize how valuable it would be to have this technology in a command post or emergency situation.
 
Think about the Vancouver Canuck hockey riot of 2011. What if officers on the streets that day were able to snap and share pictures of this situation as it unfolded? Now, apply that thought to any major event. What if on a regular day you as a supervisor or watch commander could instantly access wherever you are and have an overview of what each officer is doing by reviewing their notes and viewing incidents as they unfold through the evidence as it is being collected? How many of you reading this article agree that supervision on the street is vital but significantly impeded by the administrative burden that tends to hold supervisors hostage in the office? What if we could improve the quality of supervision by being able to provide proactive mentoring and coaching because we are seeing officers’ work in real time? What if we reconfigured our systems and our minds to allow road supervisors to supervise and administrative support staff to provide increased administrative support?
 
There is so much technology at our fingertips and yet I think that some in the policing community are afraid to take a chance, to risk failing. In areas where we have embraced new technology, we, the policing community, cannot always agree on which system to use. And so, timely and efficient information-sharing difficulties continue (digital fingerprinting is a current example) because out-of-the-box solutions don’t always play well in the sandbox with other boxed solutions. Can we, including all partners in the criminal justice system, not find a way to walk forward together?
 
Paper v. Digital
 
Members of the Transit Police are beat officers who carry their gear on them (generally we don’t have easy access to police cars and in-car computer terminals). With that in mind, let me compare the way we do business now to what life could be like working with a mobile digital system.
 
Officers are on the platform, the SkyTrain is just rolling into the station, and there is barely room to stand as the flow of rush hour pedestrians find their way to work. A call is dispatched over the police radio which you cannot fully hear. You take out your notebook and write down the details confirming all the bits you missed due to all the noise. This takes a few minutes. Or, perhaps there is no time to take out your notebook because the train is about to leave and you need to get onboard to head to the scene, a few stations away. In this case, a couple of Vancouver Police Department members are near the station and we are advised by their dispatch that the members will stop and assist.
 
With SceneDoc, the call is dispatched in the same manner over the radio and, at the same time, all the details are sitting in the SceneDoc file that dispatch has created and sent to your smartphone. If Vancouver PD was also using SceneDoc, this file would be shared with their attending members.
 
You arrive on scene, locate the suspect and take him into custody. You pull out your notebook and write down details about a couple of witnesses. You really need statements, so you arrange to have a colleague take the witnesses away to a sub office to get audio statements that will then need to be sent off for transcription. The suspect appears to be suffering from a mental health issue and he is apprehended under the Mental Health Act. Now you are tied up with an “in-custody.” You leave the scene and transport the suspect to the hospital where you wait. Hours later the suspect is finally seen by the doctor. You leave the hospital, return to the office, and gather all the information from your colleagues in order to begin writing your report.
 
With SceneDoc, every officer involved with this incident is connected and has access to the associated SceneDoc file, as well as the ability to contribute to the file. (Note: Access has to be granted and is yours to configure.) Photos of the scene, the victim’s injuries, and any relevant evidence are captured and immediately uploaded to the file on the cloud. The minute they are uploaded, this evidence is available to be viewed by authorized users. Audio statements taken from the victim and witnesses are recorded and transcribed (speech to text) and saved to the file. Officers’ involvements are written and saved to the file. As you sit in the hospital waiting for the doctor, you are able to see all of this information populating the file through the SceneDoc app on your smartphone. You use this time in the hospital to complete required forms and review all evidence that was submitted by your colleagues. You are able to converse with your sergeant, asking for a couple of other timely follow ups to be done to preserve evidence because you can see what has and hasn’t been done. From her chair in the office, the watch commander fully reviews the file and ensures that all investigative avenues are completed and gets the sergeant to tie up any loose ends. The time spent waiting for a doctor is no longer wasted. Once you clear from the hospital, a good portion of your paperwork is done. You are clear and able to return to duty much faster.
 
Security and Devices
 
Of course, data security is paramount. I am not “techy,” so you won’t hear me talking about how the constituent chunks of cryptic cookies had a high bounce rate while at rest in blob storage! What I can say is SceneDoc uses Microsoft Azure Cloud Storage located in Canada. All data is transported and stored using the most stringent security protocols. Data is encrypted at rest in the Cloud using the FIPS 140-2 certified Advanced Encryption Standard (AES-256), and during transport using industry leading SSL protection. Access to SceneDoc files remain with the file author and we further configured access to meet our specific needs. One of the things I like a lot about the administrative aspects of SceneDoc is that we can create our own forms and configure this product without paying costly user fees each time. It is very user friendly for those who don’t consider themselves tech savvy.
 
During our pilot we chose to partner with Samsung, so we are using Android technology. Samsung lent us three devices to test at the beginning of our pilot: a Note 5, a Tab E, and an S5. For cost and size purposes, we picked the S5 for our patrol officers. I am using the Note 5 which I find very convenient as I like having a stylus to write notes (can’t quite shed those old habits!).
 
As our pilot began, we ran into some glitches that were associated to SceneDoc’s interaction with the Android platform. I can’t technically explain the issue but the glitches are sorted, the App is working, and we continue to configure it to fit our needs. I hope to be able to take e-citation out for a spin soon.
 
How can Digital Technology Improve Policing? 
 
What if we all chose to use the same technology that was able to connect us in whatever form and manner we wanted, that was completely interoperable, and customizable to fit the unique demands that make us distinct from one another? Why do we continue to accept corporate cookie-cutter, boxed products that are being created by those who think they know what we need with the expectation that we will take what is built even though it doesn’t quite fit?
 
I think it’s time for policing to take advantage of this new age of collaboration and move away from proprietary roadblocks that impede and frustrate. That is another advantage that I have experienced with SceneDoc. They focus on why and not what or how. The staff is committed to building products that fit us, that we can customize ourselves, that capture the idiosyncrasies that differentiate us from one another while still allowing us to share information. Why? Because they want to help keep the public and the police safe. As I mentioned, since we started our pilot project in June, we have had to work our way through a few software glitches. But we were never alone in that journey. SceneDoc staff worked with us and was available to us whenever we needed help. Now we are firing on all cylinders.
 
It’s Like Playing a Video Game
 
One of the lessons I have learned— and perhaps it’s become a way of thinking for me—is that I don’t need to know a new process from A to Z before I hit the “go” button. I do my research, consider everything I can from my own experience, I roundtable to get perspectives from my colleagues, and then I start. If I have to pause and restart a few times along the way to deal with unexpected consequences, then so be it. If you wait until you have all the answers, until your plan is perfect, you will never start. I love watching youngsters playing video games: they begin to play and just learn as they go. If they fail, they start again until they succeed. It’s an interesting mindset. 
 
As my Chief likes to say, the only thing cops hate more than the way things are, is change! I don’t think that change should ever stop. If you get to a point where you think you are done, start again at the beginning. Investigate and find ways to use new technology. I will continue to be a champion for change, because I care!
 
About the Author
 
Inspector This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it began her policing career with the Delta Police in 1990 and joined the Metro Vancouver Transit Police in 2013. CJ is passionate about finding new ways to use technology to better support the work of all police officers. She is committed to doing her part to improve public service and public safety by providing all police officers with new tools that will create technological efficiencies within the criminal justice team. CJ’s driving motivation is, “Because I Care!”
 
 
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