The RCMP is working on delivering a secure, mobile-technology application that will improve command-and-control awareness for police officers.
The app — called the Android Team Awareness Kit (ATAK) — will provide officers, both on the ground and at command centres, with a real-time view of operations by showing officer locations on multiple devices, such as android phones or large-screen televisions.
"That's situational awareness," says Laila Martin, a manager with the Systems Delivery and Project Portfolio Management Branch. "You know where other RCMP officers are and any other friendly forces. You will also be able to paint a picture of where the suspects or criminals are or were last seen."
The RCMP was provided a test version of the app by a U.S. security agency in 2017, and is adapting it for its own needs.
Interest in the technology stems from the MacNeil Report, which examined all aspects of the 2014 Moncton shootings. Three RCMP officers were killed in those targeted shootings. Among its findings, the report recommended better communication and co-ordination in the field.
Cpl. Al Comeau, an Emergency Response Team (ERT) leader in New Brunswick, calls the app a "game changer."
"The app will provide an unprecedented technological leap," he says. "Suspect details and location will be relayed in real-time through the app and the responding ERT members will be able to better formulate and execute action plans."
The app's capabilities also include Global Positioning System tracking, text messaging, distance measuring tools, access to satellite imagery and terrain, chat and video communication, and tools to share information that will increase safety and collaboration.
Right now, commanders know where officers are based on the location of their car. But once they leave their vehicle, officers must use their radios to relay where they are.
"As soon as an officer leaves their vehicle, we'll know their exact location," says Minh A. Nguyen, a developer in the RCMP's Application Development Branch, who's been training officers to use the app during the testing phase.
Brandon Rowen, who is also an RCMP application developer, works with Nguyen to provide programming support.
The pair recently demonstrated how senior officers and police in the field can use the technology to support their work. Icons identify officers on a command centre screen, which can be used to help recognize the needs and next steps necessary for officers on the ground to perform their jobs successfully."
Senior officers can watch them (on a screen) and send all the information instantaneously to an officer's phone," says Rowen.
Several trials of the app have been conducted with ERT members, including one during the August 2018 funeral in New Brunswick for two Fredericton police officers shot and killed while responding to a call. Thousands of police officers from across the country and hundreds of public officials attended the service.
"There were so many officers there from so many different police forces. There wasn't a specific threat but the trial was implemented as a pre-emptive measure," says Martin, who says the exercise included 25 ERT members. "We needed to show the effectiveness of the app in a critical incident situation and make sure that commanders could co-ordinate RCMP officers in a variety of operations."
The technology is also being tested by officers during their day-to-day operations.
"How officers share location and information, the geo-tracking of members and the location of evidence are just a few features that will benefit them," says Comeau.
Response has been positive. One officer used the app while apprehending a suspected impaired driver who fled the scene of an accident on foot.
"I had the ATAK mobile tablet in the car, pulled over and was able to direct other officers to contain the area in real-time. It was extremely useful," the officer wrote during his feedback.
The RCMP is now working with Shared Services Canada to ensure the app can be rolled out to all officers but no national launch has been set.