The Data Squad

WAP-enabled mobile phones or PDAs are normally associated with business executives, rather than law enforcement agents, but Dubai Police is investigating the possibilities of m-enabling its officers in the field.

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By  Greg Wilson Published  July 25, 2001

The Data Squad|~||~||~|WAP-enabled mobile phones or PDAs are normally associated with business executives, rather than law enforcement agents, but Dubai Police is investigating the possibilities of m-enabling its officers in the field. Currently, the IT development department of Dubai Police is working closely with local wireless application developer, Ducont.com to deliver public and inter-police SMS and WAP services.

“We’re simplifying and speeding up the procedures, be it for the public or our internal audience,” says Colonel Tarish Al Mansouri, general department of development & planning, Dubai Police General Headquarters.

The work, which begun back in April, has already delivered push & pull SMS services to the public. Visitors that register at the Dubai Police site — www.dubaipolice.gov.ae — can subscribe to a number of SMS services, such as up to the minute traffic reports or notification of incurred traffic penalties.

“The SMS services have already received 1400 registrations since we launched the service,” says Captain Ahmed Bin Subaih, head of specialised section, general department of planning & development, Dubai Police General Headquarters.

Running in parallel to SMS development, a number of WAP (wireless application protocol) services have also been introduced to the public, including the ability to scroll through information on Police procedures and the location of the nearest station.

Dubai Police has also opened up access to its own stolen car database, hosted in the criminal investigations division (CID). Although the service is already available, it hasn’t been widely publicised says, Captain Bin Subaih. The pilot project is being offered primarily for second hand car dealers, located in Al Awir used car complex.

“The service enables the car dealer to check the chassis number or the engine number of a vehicle against those reported in our database,” explains Captain Bin Subaih.

However, the majority of WAP development work has focused on developing inter-police information sharing services. For the last month, Dubai Police officers have been able to access a number of applications hosted on CID’s servers via mobile phones. Police officers can currently access data on wanted people, wanted cars, missing people and suspects. “We worked on this for a short period of time, but we have delivered WAP [services] largely because of Ducont’s hard work,” explains Captain Bin Subaih.

But Dubai Police’s IT development section has more ambitious plans for the application of mobile technologies. Captain Bin Subaih is more than aware of the ‘limited’ nature of WAP. “The screen is too small and the picture is not big enough… the next step is pushing this to PDAs,” says the Dubai Police Captain.

“With PDAs this problem will be resolved. For example, the officer will be able to see a good quality images on the PDA and he will be able to identify people accurately and quickly. This could solve a lot of work for CID,” he adds.

The project, which is due for delivery at the start of October to coincide with Sheikh Mohammed’s e-government deadline, will eventually deliver greater functionality.

“E-government has put the emphasis on technology… there is a long term technology strategy, but some times you have to do something very fast, like these services,” says Major Hassan Abdulla Taqi, IT development manager, Dubai Police. “We’re evolving these ideas quickly… we have to be ready for anything,” he says.

||**||PDAs|~||~||~|There are already plans afoot to deliver field reporting functionality into PDA devices, including everything from filling out report forms, to taking digital pictures and sending them back to the operations centre. “This is going to make the life of the police a lot easier,” says Captain Bin Subaih.

To ensure the delivery of the PDA solution on such a short time scale, there are currently two Dubai Police programmers stationed with Ducont, to develop the application interfaces and templates. Working in such close proximity has enabled decisions to be taken at the design level, accelerating the rate of application development.

Also, working closely enables “knowledge transfer,” adds Captain Bin Subaih. “We partnered with Ducont to get the right skills, this is one of the things that we have concentrated on from the start.”

However, before the PDA solution is fully rolled out, Dubai Police is waiting on a couple of variables — the delivery of GPRS network services from Etisalat, the UAE’s sole telecoms provider and secondly, the delivery of an Arabised Pocket PC.

“We have had discussions with Etisalat and they talked to us about GPRS… they are thinking about launching [in] September,” says Captain Bin Subaih. “If they launch it then it will help us a lot, as our application will be GPRS enabled and it’s going to be fast — 40 K/bit per second,” he predicts.

Even without GPRS the service is scheduled to go forward, says Ivan Fernandes, managing director, Ducont. “We have recommended that until GPRS becomes a reality, a simple data update can be done on WAP. But if they want to take images, they will still be captured and stored, and the moment they go in to the office they are put on the synchroniser and are updated,” Fernandes explains.

Dubai Police, via Ducont, has also been in touch with Microsoft about the delivery date of an Arabised version of Pocket PC. Although the IT development department has assessed other handheld platforms including Palm, it’s keen to stick to the Pocket PC platform, due to its bespoke legacy applications. “Most of our applications are based on Microsoft technologies; they will be able to run on Pocket PC with just a slight modification. We have done a lot of that application work and we don’t want to redo them just for the sake of moving to another device,” says Captain Bin Subaih.

Arabic support is “very important,” added Colonel Tarish Al Mansouri. “Ducont has been in touch with [Microsoft], but as I said, we do have an alternative in Palm devices.”

The volume of PDAs and just which officers will end up using the devices has also yet to be decided. However, Captain Bin Subaih expects that there will be at least one PDA per patrol car. As the project to deliver mobile solutions heads towards its October deadline, the Dubai Police has yet to start a training programme for the officers that will be equipped with the PDAs. Training will start “very soon,” comments Colonel Al Mansouri. He adds pilot trials are also due to start shortly.

The IT development department doesn't foresee any potential difficulties in terms of change management. "The police officers are open minded to technology, they know what they want," says Major Taqi.
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