Roughly 16 months ago, the New York City Police Department (NYPD) began issuing Windows Phone devices to its officers. The goal was to give officers the ability to track 911 calls and access databases of criminal activity, and let officers give their own phone numbers to individuals so they could call the officer directly instead of being routed through a switchboard first. It was a surprising move, given that the Windows Phone ecosystem was already on life support at the time, and it was one of the few high-profile wins for Microsoft in the waning days of its platform. And now it’s going away.
The NYPD is moving away from Microsoft devices and offering officers the option of either an iPhone 7 or iPhone 7 Plus to use for work. Issues driving the change include a need for security updates and overall performance, as well as the fact that Microsoft isn’t investing in Windows Phone or Windows 10 Mobile any longer. The devices being used in the program weren’t new, even 18 months ago — the Nokia Lumia 830 launched in 2014, while the Microsoft Lumia 640 XL was a 2015 device.
Specific features the iPhones offer include the ability to hear 911 calls directly over the phone instead of waiting for dispatch. The New York Daily News reports photos or videos of suspects can be shared in real-time across the network, giving officers faster access to criminal information. These benefits have paid off — the NYPD reports that its response time to calls has dropped by 14 percent, and in one case officers responding directly to the 911 call were able to halt a robbery in progress.
But the NYPD system also allows for much more specific targeting of which police officers receive alerts, and what kind of information accompanies them. Alerts can be “geofenced” and sent to officers who are nearby, or broadcast across the entire system. Officers who arrive on the scene will know any criminal history at the location, how many 911 calls have been placed from the address, and if any wanted felons are suspected to live at the location. If a person is in mental or emotional distress, this information will also be conveyed, ideally helping the police respond more effectively.
With that said, it’s also possible that having this much information on-hand could paradoxically result in police making the wrong decisions in how to deal with problems. Telling police officers when felons might live at an address is useful information only if it’s true. Outdated records are a plague on virtually every organization, and the NYPD is unlikely to be exempt from the problem. Assumptions about the guilt or innocence of individuals on the premises could also increase the chance that people are treated unfairly for a variety of reasons.
There’s no denying that technology can be useful in these scenarios, but we’re wary of the end results. Integrating these advanced information services can lead to better outcomes, but it also increases the burden on the police to make certain the data is accurate and relevant.