New app brings the field interview into the 21st century

There is a lot more to the Mobile Field Interview (MFI) application than just shifting the recording instrument from a pen and an index card to a smartphone or tablet

In most general-service law enforcement agencies, field interviews (FIs) are the go-to source for investigative leads. Patrol cops fill out pre-printed cards with the interviewee’s pedigree, where and when he was stopped, and what he was up to. In most places, this process has been ignored by technology. 

Haystax Technology is trying to drag the field interview process into the 21st century via the Mobile Field Interview (MFI) application. There is a lot more to it than just shifting the recording instrument from a pen and an index card to a smartphone or tablet. 

Officers begin a field interview by bringing up the MFI app and entering the subject’s demographic information into an onscreen form. It’s here that the similarity between MFI and a field interview card ends. 

There is a lot more to the Mobile Field Interview (MFI) application than just shifting the recording instrument from a pen and an index card to a smartphone or tablet.
There is a lot more to the Mobile Field Interview (MFI) application than just shifting the recording instrument from a pen and an index card to a smartphone or tablet.

Protecting the Device (and Device Owner) 
When a new record is created, the app uses the phone/tablet’s GPS capability to log the date, time, and location of the FI. When the subject’s date of birth is entered, the app immediately calculates his or her age and alerts the officer if the subject is a juvenile. This is critical in some jurisdictions, because the records for adults and juveniles can be very different in the way they are filed and maintained. 

Officers take and attach photos of the subject’s face, tattoos, distinctive clothing, or vehicle. These photos are associated with that FI record and are retrievable by the officer or investigators. 

Picklists make data entry faster and more accurate. For example, if the officer can determine the make of a vehicle, he or she will be presented with dropdown choices for all the models sold by that manufacturer. Some fields accept verbal narratives, which are converted to text by the app and entered with the FI record. 

In my experience, one of the drawbacks in storing investigative or intelligence data on a handheld device is the hazard the device will fall into the hands of the bad guys. In this context, the “bad guys” can include defense attorneys who can subpoena all the information carried on a mobile device. This exposes not only the intelligence related to the case the attorney is handling, but potentially for many other cases, as well. 

MFI avoids this problem by storing very little FI data on the device. FI records are uploaded to a central server either immediately or queued for later transmission if the officer is in an area with poor network coverage. 

Meanwhile, Back at the PD
Officers can retrieve some FI data in the field, but the strength of the application is with the desktop analysis suite from Haystax. Investigators look at a map that shows FIs conducted between any dates they designate, along with data from other sources. Calls for service, locations of crime reports, automated license plate reader (ALPR) data, arrests, and so on are all displayed alongside the FI records. As new information comes in, the maps are updated in real time. A larger icon on the map means a higher-priority record or event. 

Doug Pasley — a former police officer with the Tampa Bay (Fla.) Police Department, now working for Haystax — was one of the developers of MFI. 

“The app was field-tested at the Super Bowl, where recent intelligence, updated in real time, is crucial to the security of the event,” he told Police1. 

“In the police marketplace, we can import data directly from most modern computer-assisted dispatching (CAD), records management, and ALPR systems, even if they come from another vendor. “ Pasley did stress that some outdated CAD systems are not compatible with MFI. 

Customers of Haystax have been enthusiastic about the application’s value. “The Mobile Field Interview is an essential law enforcement app that streamlines the field interview process and enhances situational awareness,” said Mike Sena, Director of the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center. 

“Field interviews are the cornerstone of police investigations, and with this app our officers will be able to quickly generate those and evaluate field data against other information in the California Common Operating Picture/Digital Sandbox system, including critical infrastructure and key resources, and suspicious activity reports.”

Haystax produces many software products that focus on the rapid analysis of data for time-critical environments. While the MFI and other applications can be used as stand-alones, the greatest capability comes from deploying multiple modules designed to integrate with one another. This is also the best way to control costs. “If they already have our system as a backbone, it’s not that much. The whole suite is the way to go,” Pasley said. 

The MFI application and other mobile apps from Haystax are available for both the Android and iOS mobile platforms. Users obtain the application by subscription, which can run from $15 to $200 per month per user. Many variables are at work here, so prospective customers should contact Haystax for a quote on price.

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