Law-enforcement personnel have a new tool to gather real-time information while in the field with the introduction of version 3.5 of BIO-Key's PocketCop software that runs on Research In Motion's BlackBerry. Important improvements include an interface that lets users receive information directly from an agency's computer-aided dispatch system and silently send status reports back to dispatch. In addition, a Web interface lets users download the software and automatically receive updates over the air.

The application complies with the FIPS 140-2 standard, which includes AES 256-bit encryption and the secure socket layer protocol for the protection of data transmissions. In addition, a built-in alert function broadcasts critical information to all users when an officer requires assistance.

As in previous versions, the application also includes an interface that gives users wireless access to a variety of federal and state law-enforcement and motor-vehicle databases, said Gordon Hallof, system integration manager for BIO-key. Users can check the status of people, vehicles, boats and guns. Query functions include license plate information, firearm registrations, vehicle identification numbers, as well as the first and last name of the driver or suspicious character. The interface also supports the transmission of images.

“A lot of my customers said it depends on how quickly the state responds to the request, but in most cases from the time they hit the submit button to the first piece of data received usually takes between three and five seconds,” Hallof said.

He added that the software works across platforms. It currently operates on BlackBerry operating systems 4.1, 4.2 and 4.3, as well as any platform running Windows Mobile 5.0 or 6.0. It also can send data over a commercial network.

Hallof noted that one of the reasons the BlackBerry is gaining popularity among first responders is battery life.

“Battery life drives use,” he said. “The officer can get a shift and a half or two shifts out of a BlackBerry using phone, e-mail and our applications, versus most standard Windows Mobile devices purchased over the counter from a cell phone company that provide only an hour and a half or two hours.”

The software also supports handheld-to-handheld functionality. Hallof explained that users can access a form-based, push-to-text feature, which takes 1.5 seconds to send and receive. “It is secure, direct chat from one handheld to another,” he said.

Once downloaded to the device, the software configures and launches in 15 seconds, according to Hallof. “It's an automated process,” he said.

The software has been deployed by several public safety departments across the country. Thomas Welch, systems administrator for the Franklin County (Ohio) Sheriff's Office IT Bureau, said 30 BlackBerrys armed with the software are used by police and intelligence personnel throughout the county. It is part of an interagency pilot project supported by a $73,000 Department of Homeland Security Initiative Grant. The grant funds were split evenly — half of the money was allocated to purchasing devices and the other half to the software application.

A consortium of agencies, including the FBI, has participated in the pilot, and data are housed locally on the office's server in order to share critical information across jurisdictions. Welch said BlackBerrys configured with the software could potentially replace the pager, phone and a laptop for field officers.

The software is integrated into the existing software used by the county, Welch said, which lets BlackBerry users receive 911 text messages from the computer-aided dispatch system, for example, or images from a DMV file. A special investigations unit also could send a text message to a patrol officer on foot or waiting in a squad car. Such flexibility supports information sharing, which in turn makes law enforcement officers more nimble, Welch said.

“It allows the detectives to access … county e-mail, run a license plate, pull up a photo and e-mail that to other people. It helps intelligence gathering,” he said.

The PocketCop software costs $649 per license.