When the Mumbai police in India joined the international trend of using video conferencing technology within their daily routine they missed the opportunity to do something unique.
As with other forces, including those in the U.S., the newly installed video calling links will be used to speed up communication between stations and shifts. While that’s a sound use of the technology, it doesn’t make the most of what video calling could provide to an emergency response team.
Namely, it doesn’t help officers in the field better relay exactly what is going on during a crisis situation. It isn’t mobile. In fact, we don’t know of any force that routinely equips its officers in the field with video calling technology.
So why not? Why don’t our police forces use video calling while on patrol?
Instant Face-to-Face Communication
It can’t be a lack of technological capabilities. India is currently in the midst of an internet revolution. Whole swathes of the country are adding and upgrading broadband and WiFi connections, and the population is one of the fastest-growing buyers of smartphones in the world–a fact that has encouraged investment and support from some of the U.S.’s biggest web companies.
Obviously there’s no shortage of technical opportunities in the U.S. itself, either.
And yet our police operate without smartphone video calling apps, or portable webcams that can operate hands-free after the initial connection is made.
We know officers are in constant contact with their home stations via radio, and that some even wear body cameras, especially in the wake of the controversy of the past few years.
And we know a large scale video calling emergency network can be developed because there’s already one up and running in Israel that links citizens with police and ambulance services.
Perhaps it’s a matter of cost or privacy?
Cheap, Secure Video Calling
When the Suffolk Police Department in New York set up its new video conferencing system between stations it used commercial video provider Cisco. That’s the same company that provides in-room video conferencing for businesses large and small. In other words, it doesn’t take the CIA or FBI to install a video platform within a police force.
If a company that works to the budgets of a small business can outfit an entire department, it doesn’t seem to be too unrealistic to think they could also find an affordable option for deployment in the field. Especially if a smartphone or dashboard-mounted webcam is allowable under police regulations.
As for security, even the open access WebRTC video calling platforms come complete with end-to-end encryption as standard, although beefing up security can make things a little more complex.
In any case, existing police radio transmissions seem to be easily detected and deciphered by publicly available scanners in the hands of private citizens, journalists, and, at least according to Hollywood, criminal syndicates.
So let’s forget about why police don’t use video calling in the field, and instead think about why they should use it.
Video Calling Conveys the Full Crime Scene
Amid the chaos of a crime or police chase in action, making communication as simple as possible is an obvious advantage. After all, that’s why the police currently use those wonderful radio call signals to get the message out quickly.
Well, there’s no better way to improve an audio conversation than by adding a visual element. An officer relaying an armed robbery in progress–a 211–could use video calling to send out a real-time view of the situation and the condition of any victims they may encounter. The two-way communication means a commanding officer back at the station could give detailed instructions based on a view of the current situation, while responding officers could pool their collected viewpoints to provide a comprehensive assessment of the entire scene. All the while each is able to provide the standard audio information.
Those victims the officer has saved could also be video linked with remote medical staff for a quicker diagnosis and to prioritize ambulance responses. Or, if the situation isn’t critical, they could speak face-to-face with police counselors or even family members to reduce their stress without the risk of prematurely moving through a dangerous area.
Police could relay live footage of suspects or damage to the surrounding neighborhood. They could let detectives question witnesses without having to travel, or they could bring in translation services instantly into the field.
Mumbai police could have set this whole process in motion. Instead, we’ll have to wait for some other forward-thinking force to demonstrate why police should be equipped with video conferencing cameras in the field. With all the trouble and controversy around policing right now, it could only help.