Smart phone apps are becoming increasingly commonplace tools for law enforcement. While some are designed specifically for police, others have more broad appeal and application. Either way, apps can be convenient and cost-effective resources for officers in the field. Cops use apps for everything from cataloging crime scenes to looking up laws and statutes. Even the IACP has gotten in on the act, creating the Police Officers Guide to Recovered Firearms.
Here’s a quick rundown of some of the other top law enforcement apps for 2012.
1. U.S. Cop(Android)
This app is big—over 1,276 pages of content in a searchable, easy-to-use format. It includes training articles and videos to give you a refresher on CPR, accident investigation, search procedure, etc. Some of the most valuable bells and whistles include a pill identifier, tips for detecting concealed weapons, and an abundant library of case law on nearly every subject you’re likely to encounter, from drug interdiction to search procedure to warrant execution. It’s a bit pricey, and there are free apps that can perform some of the same functions, but it’s by far the most comprehensive dedicated law enforcement app on the market. Cost: $3.99
2. DroidLaw (Android)
This is a shell app that allows you to download your state’s legal code for instant access wherever you are. For research on the fly, or if you just don’t want to have to haul out the code book every time you have a procedural question, this is a great time-saver. DroidLaw supports state civil, criminal, and evidence procedure, as well as Constitutional law, so you can always be sure you’re on the right side of the rules. The app is targeted toward legal professionals and law students, so there’s an extensive library of available content; but fortunately, since you download everything piecemeal, you don’t have to clutter your phone with anything unnecessary. Cost: Free.
3. Offender Locator (iPhone)
Accessing official records can take a while, and it helps to have an extra source of information on the individuals you contact on the job. Offender Locator allows you to cross-check state and national registered offender databases before you make a visit so you’ll know exactly who you’re dealing with in any situation. You can search for offenders individually by name, address, or location, and all other registered offenders in the area will appear as pins on your GPS map. Just click a pin to open a detail screen with the individual’s basic information and offense record. Cost: $0.99
4. Smart Tools (Android)
For cataloging crime scenes and other forensics work, this app is indispensable. It uses your Android phone’s accelerometer and camera to make a surprising array of accurate measurements, including distance, height, width, area, angle, slope, etc., so you can quickly get the lay of the land and make a precise report. It also detects sound levels and vibrations, and even includes a simple metal detector which can be invaluable in looking for bullets and casings, among other things. The quality of the results (particularly with sensitive functions like vibrometry and metal detection) depends on a phone with a high-quality accelerometer; flaky readings were reported with HTC phones, while T-Mobile Samsung Galaxy S users gave the app higher marks. Cost: $2.50
5. Cargo Decoder (Android; iPhone app in development)
This app can literally be a life-saver for police and first-responders in accidents or crimes involving freight trucks and tankers. If you arrive at the scene of an accident to find a damaged tanker or semi spilling something you don’t recognize all over the freeway, knowing what you’re dealing with can be a matter of life or death for you as well as those involved in the collision. If you’re unsure of a freight container’s contents, just enter or say the four-digit number from the vehicle’s DOT placard, and you’ll have instant access to the vehicle’s contents as registered. The app can be used outside of your network coverage, and it’s free (and ad-free); you’ll be periodically asked to support the app by upgrading to a $0.99 “plus” version, but the developer calls Cargo Decoder his “way to give back to the first responders who are always there for us”. Cost: Free.