IACP 2022: Bringing the LAPD into the 21st century
LAPD leaders explore the agency's efforts to integrate wireless and fiber with legacy information systems over the past four years
The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) is undergoing a massive technological upgrade. It includes officers adopting Apple iPhones as personal computing and communications devices, and a push to integrate wireless and fiber with the LAPD’s legacy information systems.
During a session at IACP 2022 titled “The Digital Transformation and Legacy Systems Integration of the LAPD," LAPD Deputy Chief John McMahon joined an LAPD leadership panel that delved into these changes and the challenges associated with them.
A 33-year LAPD veteran, Deputy Chief McMahon heads up the department’s Information Technology Bureau.
By bringing its communications, documentation and information technology systems up to 21st-century standards, the LAPD hopes to garner the efficiencies and cost savings associated with digitalization. However, the real driver behind these changes is human resources.
“We're still a paper-based police department, and as a result, we’re really having trouble with recruitment and retention,” Deputy Chief McMahon said. “Modern technology is an important aspect that people consider when determining what police departments to apply to. Right now over 40% of a patrol officer's time is spent on administrative paperwork. The use of modern technology would greatly reduce the amount of time spent on it.”
Key to reducing this workload is the adoption of mobile technology, such as the nearly 8,000 Apple iPhones that the LAPD is now acquiring.
“While many people think of those devices as just cellular telephones, they really are small mobile computers with elegantly designed applications and user-friendly interfaces,” Deputy Chief McMahon said.
Given that experienced iPhone users have been shown to input up to 140 words/minute in these devices, he sees them as a safe alternative to in-car laptop computers and their hard metal support frames.
“There's not a single law enforcement administrative task that cannot be accomplished by use of these devices,” he said. “All you need is for the patrol cars to be equipped with large touchscreen displays and an enabling connection software such as Apple CarPlay.”
Connectivity & workflow management
Given the lifespan of the LAPD’s current fleet of patrol cars, plus the fact that almost 8,000 iPhones are not enough to equip the entire 13,000-person force, the Department has been pursuing near-term IT strategies to improve connectivity and workflow management for its officers.
A case in point: “We had old laptop computers in our patrol cars with old 3G USB modem sticks with very limited bandwidth,” said Deputy Chief McMahon. “So the first thing we did was get those dilapidated laptops out of the cars and replace them with new models equipped with high-speed modems with dual sims. These two sims ensure that each laptop is connected to two separate wireless carriers. If the primary carrier goes down, the secondary will keep the officers connected.”
All of this change comes with particular challenges. Some of it is monetary: There’s not enough money to give each LAPD officer their own iPhone, resulting in an ongoing sharing and exchanging of these devices as personnel move from one assignment to another every 28 days. The result is “an inventory nightmare, trying to keep track of phone numbers,” Deputy Chief McMahon said. “That's why I talk about this as much as I can to underline how important it is to invest in mobile technology.”
Other challenges are technical. For instance, it is difficult to integrate fiber and wireless technologies with legacy mainframe systems controlled by obsolete software written in COBOL and Assembler. “I'm really trying my darndest to get off that mainframe as soon as we can,” he said.
Add human resistance to change – which he is addressing with internal promotional campaigns to build up officer interest and excitement – and Deputy Chief John McMahon and his team have their work cut out for them. But they’re making progress nonetheless, which he and other LAPD officers explained in greater detail during the IACP session.