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Supporting Communities in Need and Increasing Officer Safety with FirstNet

October 13, 2020

Protect and serve, that is the motto of many law enforcement agencies across the nation. Every day, officers and deputies work in our communities handling incidents ranging from traffic violations to someone’s worst day. Each day is a new day with new challenges, but the “protect and serve” motto never changes.

Technology has evolved significantly, providing a cache of new tools for first responders in the field. Law enforcement agencies across the country are turning to technology for innovative ways to protect and serve their communities. With FirstNet – the only nationwide broadband network built for public safety – officers have secure, reliable access to apps and devices that help them in their everyday duties. Discover how two agencies are using technology to provide care to their communities and how FirstNet can support these advanced capabilities.

Providing Individualized Care

Folsom Police Department

Folsom, California is located approximately 20 miles northeast of Sacramento. The Folsom Police Department (FPD) is a full-service agency, with roughly 100 sworn and civilian staff. Recognizing that individuals with an intellectual disability or struggling with mental health issues may have difficulty communicating – and may display no signs that they need individualized interactions – FPD began using an application to help officers serve at-risk individuals and navigate these situations.

The application allows any member of the community who has a loved one with special needs to voluntarily sign up. Once the individual is connected, he or she receives a Bluetooth tile, pairs it with the app, and creates a profile for his or her loved one who has special needs, including information such as the person’s name, contact information, conditions, known triggers, and techniques to communicate. When the Bluetooth tile comes within close proximity to FPD officers who have the app loaded onto their devices, officers have access to this profile where they can find tools to effectively communicate and help the individual. Officers can also play personalized audio or video messages from care takers through the app to let the individual know it is safe.

The Bluetooth tile can be worn in many different ways – for example, it can be tied to shoes, placed in a wallet, or worn on the person. Some users in the city have placed the tile at their front doors, so first responders approaching the house have information they need before entering the home, providing important situational awareness to the responders.

The FirstNet App Catalog is home to many applications that help first responders keep communities safe and secure.  The catalog lists over 100 applications that have been carefully reviewed to ensure they use industry best practices for sharing data, are secure and relevant for first responders, and demonstrate a performance history of being at least 99.9 percent available.

Seattle Police Department

The Seattle Police Department (SPD) in Washington patrols the city and 59 square miles of waterway, and oversees the city’s 9-1-1 Communication Center. The department receives approximately 800,000 calls for service per year. Individuals with mental health problems, with drug and alcohol dependence, and those experiencing homelessness may frequently call 9-1-1 for assistance.

To better serve individuals in crisis who are interacting frequently with officers, SPD is using an application that gives officers access to individualized care plans for people with recurrent contact with the department. For each person, the care plan includes information that will improve an officer’s ability to have a positive interaction with the individual – topics to address to help de-escalate or connect with an individual (i.e., talk about their dog), topics to avoid that might trigger an escalation (i.e., don’t talk about the Seahawks), recent interactions with law enforcement, known concerning behaviors, and known medical conditions as examples. It also includes contact information for case managers, family members, and other service providers so officers can help maintain the support and connections the person needs.

Every person an officer comes into contact with has unique needs, and providing generalized support in every interaction does not achieve the desired benefits for the individual and the community. Individualized care requires the officer to have a knowledge of the person’s needs and history. New applications are bringing that information to officers in the field as they respond to incidents. And because FirstNet is built for public safety, when these applications are used while on the network, first responders can trust the sensitive information they are sharing remains secure and is transmitted quickly.

Both the Seattle and Folsom solutions also have the added benefit of increasing officer safety by giving officers the information they need to navigate and stabilize often difficult situations. They know when they might be approaching someone who might not have a typical reaction or who might have difficulties understanding or carrying out instructions. They can also plan the best plan for an effective interaction, including what to talk through, what to avoid, and how they can present opportunities for more long-term positive outcomes.

Serving Communities with FirstNet

Agencies are seeing the early results of how these technologies are helping them to better to support at-risk individuals in their communities, ultimately keeping everyone safer.

Since the First Responder Network Authority was established in 2012, we have been committed to creating a network that helps public safety better serve their communities. As the network has grown over the past several years, it is exciting to see how agencies are finding new and innovative ways to connect and communicate.

Learn more about how FirstNet is transforming public safety communications for law enforcement — contact your local FirstNet Authority Public Safety Advisor and sign up for our law enforcement newsletter. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn for the latest FirstNet Authority updates. 

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