York Regional Police announced on January 10th 2022 of its plan to transition its Police Service to electronic notes. An incredible mission to modernize a historic 150-year-old paper note-taking process.
As the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic forced businesses to pivot and modernize their employee workflow, the judicial system also had to start turning to virtual court sessions, digitally serving papers and focusing more on digital evidence. This naturally also starts impacting Police officers, as hand-written paper notes continued to provide challenges in timely disclosure, legibility and needless duplication in an evolving digital, fast-paced society.
The move to virtual
The shift to virtual across industries as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic was seismic. No sector felt this more acutely than the judicial system. Restrictions on in-person hearings caused backlogs in Canada in 2020. Those backlogs still exist in 2022 and are being exacerbated as courts move to increase restrictions on in-person hearings once again, such as in the Provincial Court of Alberta and Court of Queen’s Bench.
The solution to the Canadian judicial system’s woes as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic was the same as for any other sector, and also for the judicial sector in other countries—go virtual.
The shift to virtual has not been without its challenges—we’ve seen everything from viral “I’m not a cat” bloopers to disappearing jurors to goats in the courthouse.
But despite the occasional hiccups, the judicial move to virtual has been a resounding success. Not only is the practice praised by jurists, but giving virtual testimony can also be less traumatic for victims.
Technology improves law-enforcement
COVID-19 was the impetus to precipitate this inevitable move, but digitizing the legal sector has been in the cards for far longer. Police note-taking is an aspect so essential to good policing that the Hon. Heather L. Katarynych of the Ontario Court of Justice called it “part and parcel of a police officer’s duty” in a 2006 court ruling. Proper note-taking is vital for evidential integrity—human memory simply is not reliable enough—and is a crucial aspect of the proper course of justice.
But the practice of note-taking is ancient. Legibility issues still plague handwritten notes, creating opportunities for defense lawyers. Notes still need to be scanned and complex investigations are recorded in case notebooks, separate from a regular duty notebook. Further errors can be made when importing notes into police record management system. And, finally, the entire process is slow, leading to disclosure issues. This age-old practice of paper-and-pen note-taking can swallow up hours and hours of time. By taking notes digitally and sending them electronically, using patent-pending encryption technology such as BRAIDMARK®, Canadian police forces can reduce unnecessary duplication, improve legibility, create efficiencies and improve judicial disclosure.
Research has already long since established that the use of technology in policing has a “positive effect” on law enforcement. The trick is to find the right technology. Although many police departments across the world have adopted some type of e-notes app, many of those apps have been found lacking in proper encryption or were too limited in their scope to greatly assist law enforcement officers in all aspects of their daily duties.
Transitioning to e-notes across Canada
If the third largest police force in Ontario (YRP) has finally switched from paper notebooks to digital e-notes, it is only a matter of time before police services across Canada follow suit.
“York Regional Police continues to be provincial and national leaders in utilizing the latest technology to modernize our police service and create efficiencies for officers that ultimately benefit our community,” said Chief of York Regional Police Jim MacSween. “We’re pleased to partner with DMI on this innovative solution, which transforms our current paper-based process.”
As a cross-platform, multi-purpose application, Intelligent Mobile Patrol (IMP) goes a few steps beyond just note-taking. IMP intuitive design places an entire suite of features, forms and processes essential to day-to-day policing at the fingertips of officers, supervisors and investigators. Not only does IMP provide a new digital platform, but it also allows officers to work simultaneously on their phones, laptops, tablets and desktop workstations, meeting the needs of officers and investigators.
Based on initial research conducted by DMI and some of its partner law enforcement agencies, transitioning from paper notebooks to Intelligent Mobile Patrol has significantly reduced administrative note-taking time, including reducing the duplication of existing call information, and other pertinent information through the ability to scan drivers licences and directly attaching notes to records management reports. Additionally, officers can immediately give access to critical information and intelligence to supervisors and investigators with a click of a button through any of the mobile applications. Police Services benefit from direct cost savings and communities benefit from reduced police administrative time, allowing for greater community engagement, proactive patrol and priority response. Digital transformation is the future, a future YRP has embraced and continues to lead as a progressive and innovative police service.