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Police GPS Tracking: Your Go-To Guide Rastrac Team | Oct 19, 2020 2:50:24 PM

For first responders, every second counts. This is especially true for police fleets responding to the scene of an accident or a public safety incident. These police fleets, as well as other law enforcement agencies, must be as efficient as possible so they can save lives, protect the public, and protect themselves.

Faced with the increasing challenges of the 21st century, more and more law enforcement agencies are turning to modern tools and technologies to increase efficiency. GPS fleet management systems is one such tool that has helped police fleets across the country improve operations so they can better serve their communities. How? Police GPS tracking can be used to:

  • Increase visibility into your police fleet
  • Increase safety of your employees and community
  • Reduce fleet costs
  • Improve day-to-day efficiency and fleet operations
  • Optimize fleet maintenance
  • And more!

Ready to learn more about how GPS tracking devices can help you experience these valuable benefits? We’ve compiled this go-to guide to police GPS tracking so you can better understand the features of vehicle tracker devices and how they can transform your own police fleet. So let’s dive in!

What Is GPS Tracking?

GPS, an acronym for Global Positioning Satellite, is a system that uses a series of satellites and transmitters to determine the position of a specific object. GPS tracking is a technology that can be used to manage fleets of all sizes in nearly industry, whether that means tracking vehicles and drivers or the location of high-value assets or equipment.

Modern GPS tracking devices have the ability to perform numerous different tasks that go far beyond just location tracking. For example, while some can interface with a vehicle’s diagnostics system to provide remote diagnostics and robust reports, others allow a vehicle owner to disable their vehicle’s starter remotely to reduce theft. No matter your goals or what you’re looking to monitor, there is likely a GPS tracking device out there that aligns—the key is simply choosing the right option for your specific needs.

Why Do Police Use GPS Tracking?

Police use GPS tracking because it provides a wealth of valuable data that their fleet managers can use to make more strategic, well-informed decisions. When every second on the job counts for first responders, this ability to work smarter and faster can quite literally be the difference between life and death.

Law Enforcement and Remote Work

The coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak that hit the U.S. in early 2020 forced many government and law enforcement organization to change the way they operate to ensure the safety of their employees.

To help prevent the spread of coronavirus through the ranks, law enforcement officers (LEOs) and other public safety personnel started to “work from home” for the office portion of their jobs. However, this created new challenges for law enforcement agencies that would normally coordinate efforts for LEOs before shifts at in-person briefings.

How Coronavirus Impacted Law Enforcement

Unfortunately, coronavirus affects LEOs just as readily as it affects everyone else. According to an article by Time, as of April 2, 2020, “over 1000 New York City Police Department (NYPD) personnel have tested positive for the coronavirus… Five members of the department have died.” An article by the Center for American Progress, published on April 14, put the number of infected NYPD officers at over 2,000.

Police departments and law enforcement agency personnel still need to interact with the public to enforce stay at home orders and to ensure that individuals and businesses are following curfews and other restrictions. One interesting side-effect of the coronavirus outbreak on law enforcement has been a noticeable drop in crime rates. In the Times article, Commissioner Dermot Shea of the NYPD was credited with saying that “crime rates have dropped significantly since people started staying indoors, minimizing the need for foot patrols.”

So, while enforcement needed to continue, this particular law enforcement agency was able to cut back a bit on foot patrols—which is an activity that puts officers at a higher risk for contracting COVID-19.

To further help counter the risks of catching the coronavirus from infected people, many police departments attempted to supply LEOs with masks and gloves—but protective wear was in short supply for much of the outbreak, and it wasn’t effective for protecting officers from suspects who would spit, cough, or outright assault them.

Being able to have officers and support staff work remotely instead of everyone having to report to the precinct helped to prevent the spread of the pandemic. However, working from home to do paperwork, coordinate patrols remotely, and perform other tasks can take some adjustment.

What Law Enforcement Agencies Can Do to Be Ready for Remote Work

How can a law enforcement agency prepare for remote work so that they can protect officers and key staff from infectious diseases without severely impacting their ability to protect public safety and order? Here are a few ways to ready them for remote work:

  1. Ensure All Personnel Have Access to Communication Solutions. Communication is the basis of any successful remote work strategy. If officers and key staff are going to work from home to file reports and coordinate patrols, they need to be able to communicate with ease. Verifying that LEOs and other staff have active cell phones, internet, and other communication tools is vital for ensuring that they’ll work together efficiently.
  2. Conduct Video Conferences When Possible. While not a replacement for an in-person meeting, using video conferencing solutions can help law enforcement agency staff be more active and engaged during remote meetings. It also helps encourage people to uphold department standards for maintaining hygiene and appearance, since everyone will be able to see one another.
  3. Update Emergency Contact Information. Officers may need to be called in for extra shifts to cover for coworkers who get sick or need to take vacations. Additionally, loved ones may need to be contacted if a LEO is injured, or worse, in the line of duty. Making sure that emergency contact information (names, addresses, and phone numbers) is up to date can be incredibly important for a law enforcement agency working remotely.
  4. Use Telematics Solutions to Coordinate Officer Patrols. With numerous officers being quarantined in each jurisdiction because of coronavirus infections, police departments need to cover their jurisdictions with fewer officers than ever before. Using telematics solutions, like GPS tracking, can help law enforcement agencies make more efficient use of patrol vehicles to cover a larger area with fewer officers.

9 Ways Police Fleets Can Use GPS Tracking to Improve Daily Fleet Operations

Wondering how police use GPS tracking throughout the day-to-day to improve their fleet operations? Here’s four key ways that police fleets can actually use GPS tracking devices in practice!

1. Increase Safety for Officers

Police officers, sheriffs, and other law enforcement professionals need every advantage to keep themselves and their communities safe. Modern technologies, such as police GPS tracking, is one such advantage that can help to make daily law enforcement activities safer and more efficient for everyone.

Working in law enforcement can be very dangerous. According to statistics from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, over the last decade (2008-2018), a total of 1,582 law enforcement officers have died in the line of duty.

The leading causes of death have included:

  • Shootings (528 deaths)
  • Auto crashes (350 deaths)
  • Job-related illness (408 deaths)
  • Struck by vehicle (122 deaths)

Officers in distress need their backup and emergency first aid responders to arrive quickly after a distress call. The risk of a fatality increases exponentially with every minute that a police fleet response is delayed because an officer could not be located. However, finding the exact location of a downed officer in an emergency can be extremely difficult without having a reliable and accurate GPS tracking system available.

A police GPS tracking helps to increase officer safety by:

  • Providing Real-Time Location Data. One of the biggest benefits of GPS tracking for police officers is transmitting their squad car’s current location, minimizing the time it takes for a backup unit to arrive and find the origin point of the call. Efficient fleet management software can save vital minutes, which could mean the difference between life and death for an injured officer.
  • Improving Vehicle Maintenance. By collecting vehicle use data and time since last maintenance for police vehicles, fleet managers can check to see which patrol cars are approaching their next maintenance milestone. Then, they can apply preventative maintenance to keep police cars from suffering sudden catastrophic failures while on the road.
  • Monitoring Driver Behaviors. GPS tracking data can be used to monitor how officers are driving so good driving behaviors can be encouraged to increase safety. More on this later.

2. Improve Patrol Coverage

Police using GPS tracking devices also enables police fleets to cover larger areas with fewer vehicles more efficiently. Many police precincts must cover an extensive area with too few active patrol vehicles, which can lead to a reduced perception of police presence and negatively impact public safety. Optimizing patrol routes through fleet tracking helps to increase patrol efficiently as well as the perception of police presence — which serves as a powerful deterrent to criminal activity.

This increased visibility means that if a police officer or deputy presses the distress button on the radio, you can use the emergency vehicle GPS tracking device that coordinates to dispatch additional police fleet units and medical emergency personnel to the exact location quickly and efficiently. This capability helps to reduce your response time by several minutes, which can make all the difference in the world to a law enforcement officer’s safety

3. Monitor Fleet Tracking and Coverage of Patrol Routes in Real Time

Some GPS fleet management software employ software plug-ins to track the amount of time that has passed since a GPS-tagged asset has visited a particular area. With police GPS tracking, police dispatches can use these customizable, color-coded, aging maps to see which routes have been least attended and redirect a patrol car there to improve coverage. This can:

  • Limit Patrol Overlap. While it’s important to make sure that no one area goes too long without a patrol presence, excessive patrol overlap also can be an inefficient use of your patrol assets. Through fleet tracking, dispatch can actively prevent too many police fleet units from gathering in one location by tracking where each squad car is at any given time.
  • Reduce Idle Time. Engine idle time can be a significant problem for some precincts. While some idle time is unavoidable (especially for highway patrol cars looking for speeders), excessive idling wastes valuable time and contributes to higher fleet costs while reducing the area the car can patrol. With police GPS tracking, it’s easy to determine when a car spends too much time in idle so dispatch can remind the officer to get back on their assigned route.

Additionally, geofencing is an invaluable tool that can be used to inform you about when vehicles outfitted with a vehicle tracker device enter or leave high-crime areas. It allows law enforcement to create virtual boundaries that correspond with physical locations in the real world. Not only can this help to improve fleet operations in high-crime areas, this element of police GPS tracking can help to improve officer safety by tracking precisely when and where their patrol cars enter or leave a specified area.

4. Increase Transparency and Accountability

Law enforcement agencies nationwide are experiencing more scrutiny than ever before. Maintaining the trust of the community your precinct serves requires robust fleet management tools for creating transparency and supporting accountability for a police fleet in the field.

To protect both the public and police officers, dashboard and body cams are quickly becoming standard issue for law enforcement. Police using GPS tracking devices can supplement this trust-building by helping precinct staff accurately track when and where police and their vehicles have traveled at all times.

5. Reduce Fleet Costs

Fleet costs for a police motor pool is an enormous expense, even for a small precinct. There are a variety of fuel waste factors that contribute to higher fuel consumption and fleet costs, such as:

  • Excessive idle time
  • Inefficient patrol routes
  • Minor engine problems
  • Hard acceleration/braking

Law enforcement agencies that implement police GPS tracking for police vehicles can reduce these types of wasteful fleet costs by:

  • Improving route planning and assigned route enforcement
  • Identifying drivers who frequently brake or accelerate too quickly
  • Spotting when vehicles spend an excessive amount of time idling
  • Improving maintenance scheduling

6. Improve Driver Behaviors

Fleet management software paired with GPS tracking devices will also allow you to identify and address officers who practice ineffective or dangerous driving habits on the road. Police using GPS tracking devices enable police precinct chiefs to enforce safe driving habits among their officers more effectively, which reduces the risk of fatal crashes, lawsuits, and other situations that can result from bad driving behaviors.

A significant fleet management software benefit of equipping each vehicle with a GPS vehicle tracker device is that it can help to spur real-time adjustments in employee driving behaviors. For example, Rastrac helped Hidalgo County and its Constable Precinct 4 solve these issues, along with many others, leading them to receive a best practices award from the Texas Association of Counties for implementing a GPS vehicle tracking program. Through the program, the county was able to reduce fuel and fleet costs by $25,000, reduce incidents of employee speeding in county vehicles, and cut fleet idle time, saving the public significant money in overhead costs and potential fines.

7. Enhance Communication with Law Enforcement Officers

Dispatchers who miscommunicate when giving directions to law enforcement services can dramatically delay their response time. Being unable to provide the correct information to police officers about a crime in progress puts public safety at risk and reduces the likelihood of law enforcement officials locating and arresting suspected criminals.

With fleet tracking, dispatchers receive live, up-to-date traffic information and identify the fastest routes to take to reach the crime scene. This feature is especially helpful for officers in hot pursuit of a suspect during a car chase. Dispatchers can accurately direct and navigate police officers using their fleet management software dashboard and warn them of potential road hazards. Officers traveling in unfamiliar areas can also maintain constant communication and receive accurate instructions to avoid getting lost.

8. Track Criminal Activity

In the case of the United States vs. Katzin, the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled law enforcement officials are allowed to use GPS tracking devices to trace a suspect’s vehicle and monitor their activity once a warrant is properly obtained—which prevents law enforcement from trampling on a person’s Fourth Amendment rights that protect them from “unreasonable searches and seizures.”

GPS tracking is highly useful when law enforcement agents need to track suspicious cargo and monitor other criminal activity, especially when performing covert operations. The extended battery life of GPS tracking devices is perfect for long-term surveillance.

9. Vehicle Theft Prevention

Today, many law enforcement jurisdictions are using GPS tracking devices in their bait car programs. Typically, bait cars are nondescript automobiles rigged with real-time GPS tracking devices and other features which are strategically set up to look abandoned, broken-down, or in some cases, still running. The best bait are those vehicles that have already been identified as attractive to thieves.

Interestingly, crime analysis reports determine that Hondas, Toyotas, and trucks are the vehicles most likely to be stolen. These bait cars are left in higher risk neighborhoods or in areas that have been plagued with car thefts. When the car is tampered with or driven off by a thief, the GPS tracking device alerts the police command complex, which immediately starts to monitor the vehicle and alert patrols of any activity or movement.

An important goal of bait car stings is to reduce the likelihood of a high-speed chase occurring, which increases safety for the suspect, bystanders, and officers. When police officers stop the car and locate it using GPS coordinates, they do so on their own terms.

Should the suspect attempt to flee, the dispatcher can remotely shut the car off, causing it to come to a gradual stop. The car doors can also be locked remotely, keeping the suspect confined if necessary. Bait car stings deliver several advantages to law enforcement agencies:

  • Police officers can maintain their regular duties and patrols rather than stake out a potential robbery for hours or days at a time
  • Thieves steal vehicles that are owned by the city, rather than those owned by citizens
  • Attainment of exceptionally high conviction rates because the evidence provided by bait car sting operations using GPS tracking devices and in-car cameras is virtually indisputable
  • Bait cars have also proved valuable in sting operations targeting criminals involved in stripping down abandoned cars

A similar tactic has been applied to bicycles in some municipalities. Instead of GPS tagging a car, a bait bike uses a GPS device hidden on a bicycle to track bike thieves.

Need More Information? Check out the Protecting Law Enforcement Guide!

Rastrac’s guide to Protecting Our Law Enforcement and Communities with GPS Tracking Solutions details the benefits of using GPS tracking for law enforcement activities and the use cases for GPS tracking systems in public safety.

Get this FREE Resource Today!

The daily dedication and self-sacrifice of law enforcement officers throughout the country helps make our communities safer. To provide the best protection and service to their communities, these officers need to have the right tools for the job.

Ready to Invest in GPS Tracking in Your Police Fleet?

GPS tracking devices for law enforcement are essential to helping to reduce overhead fleet costs and improve efficiency. Being able to accurately track daily fleet operations, optimize preventative fleet maintenance and repairs, adjust employee driving behaviors, and make your patrol routes and dispatches more efficient are just a few of the ways that you can help your police fleet—and, by proxy, the taxpayers—save money!

To learn more about how Rastrac’s police GPS tracking can help to increase fleet efficiency, safety, and cost-savings in your police fleet, be sure to contact us today!

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