What’s Your Emergency? Law Enforcement’s Increasing Interest in Tech

Fort Worth, TX—Data analytics and visual search technologies are increasingly being used by law enforcement agencies, growth that has captured the attention of tech giant Motorola.

The Chicago-based tech company, which has long sold narrow-band radios to law enforcement, has been building its arsenal of software and camera technologies through a series of acquisitions. The latest by Motorola Solutions (NYSE: MSI) was a $445 million purchase last week of Vaas, a Fort Worth, TX-based maker of imaging software that can capture and analyze license plate information.

Whereas the public might still think of phones when it comes to Motorola, Andrew Sinclair, general manager and corporate vice president for software enterprise at Motorola Solutions, says public safety “is our core business.”

“We’ve built an end-to-end workflow” for law enforcement, from a 911 call coming in, to a dispatcher sending out first responders, to the maintenance of records and the filing of police reports, Sinclair says.

Vaas provides what it calls “video-as-a-service.” Its sensor and analytics software, along with fixed or mobile cameras, can surveil license plate numbers and provide vehicle locations to both police and commercial customers. The company is composed of two subsidiaries: Livermore, CA-based Vigilant Solutions, which works with law enforcement, and Digital Recognition Network (DRN) in Fort Worth on the commercial side. Law enforcement can use the tool to track down suspects, while companies need such information to contact customers in an auto recall or for defaulted auto loans, for example.

Law enforcement agencies are able to share the data amongst themselves and the commercial data can be shared with public safety officials. No data used by law enforcement is shared for commercial use, Sinclair says.

Providing analytics, camera, and sensor technologies to law enforcement is a growing business opportunity for startups, especially in Texas. South Africa-based RapidDeploy said last week that it is moving its headquarters to Austin. The announcement comes after the company in August secured a deal with AT&T (NYSE: T) to have its software used in U.S.-based 911 calls.

Supporting this innovation is Firstnet, a nationwide broadband network for first responders launched in March 2018. The network was developed from recommendations out of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, or the 9-11 Commission, because fire, police, and other emergency agencies could not communicate with each other.

Bringing in new tech tools gives law enforcement “much better situational awareness prior to, en route, and during an incident,” says Jason Karp, vice president of public safety at the Public Safety Technology Alliance, a group of law enforcement and tech and telecom companies that was formed last year.

The technology can also help officers on the administrative side, he adds. “They can capture this information and do the analysis in real time,” Karp says. “They can tag with inventory numbers and evidence numbers; the information can be aggregated and submitted in their report from the field.”

Law enforcement—like in retail, healthcare, or other industries—is also inundated with data as it goes about its daily work. “Look at the growing number of alert systems, video feeds, especially body cameras, to understand the proliferation of police data and the need to manage that flood of data,” Brian Jackson, senior physical scientist with RAND, said in an article in Govtech. “One arrest of a person whose computer is a piece of evidence might result in terabytes of data for just that one case.”

Globally, law enforcement agencies are expected to spend $11.6 billion on software tools and systems, according to MarketsandMarkets, an online B2B market research firm. That figure is expected to reach $18.1 billion by 2023.

For Vaas’ founders, being part of Motorola enables the Fort Worth company to take advantage of that market opportunity faster than it could on its own, Shawn Smith, Vaas co-founder, said in a press release.

Vaas’s data and image analytics help both law enforcement and private businesses locate vehicles. The company uses cameras, which can either be placed in a fixed position or attached to a vehicle, to record the plates of cars that are parked or driving nearby. Those cameras are then connected to machine learning software that records the vehicle’s location and time of recording.

Security features to protect private data is built in, such as the faces of people uninvolved in an incident captured by body cameras, Sinclair says. Even on the commercial side, access is limited. “You can’t just look up your ex-girlfriend’s car,” he says. “The software is built so it can only be done if the car appears on a hotlist.”

Prior to the Vaas purchase, Motorola Solutions acquired technology companies with innovations in video and access control analytics, broadband push-to-talk (PTT) services, command center software with text-to-911 mapping and other features, and software computer-aided dispatch and records management. Motorola Solutions was founded as Motorola Inc., and spun off its mobile communications business as Motorola Mobility (NYSE: MMI) in 2011.

As public agencies like first responders adopt new technologies, Karp, of the public safety tech group, says it’s key that these tools are interoperable, or can talk to each other.

“Historically, that has not been the case,” he says. “But the response so far [from technology companies] has been phenomenal. The customer, public safety, is demanding this.”

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