High-accuracy location of mobile devices essential for city and county public safety efforts

Jul 03, 2013

High-accuracy location of mobile devices essential for city and county public safety efforts

A recent segment on 60 Minutes titled “Counterinsurgency Cops” detailed how tactics used overseas in the war on terror are helping law enforcementofficials in Springfield, Mass., fight street crime.

Springfield, a city of approximately 700,000 residents had the 18th highest crime rate in the country a decade ago, but residents have seen the crime rate plummet over 50 percent in the past few years because of innovative policing and the use of new technologies. For example, in 2008, the city’s police department deployed a location-based application that detects the sources of gunshots using acoustic measurements, detecting over 4,000 gunshots in its first two years, leading to more than 25 arrests.

But Springfield could be doing more by augmenting its efforts with high-accuracy (within 50 meters) wireless location, which uses target tracking, geo-fencing (a virtual security perimeter around a building such as a county courthouse), and other advanced surveillance measures. In turn, these capabilities enable police to identify patterns of behavior, track potential criminals and selectively deploy resources to prevent attacks.

By monitoring the locations of criminals and suspects over time, authorities will be able to create "heat maps" that identify areas in which patterns of criminal activity are located. These patterns can then be referenced by police to assign priority for increased monitoring and to optimally deploy personnel and equipment in anticipation of unlawful activities.

However, not all high-accuracy location technologies are alike. Many police departments have relied on GPS devices to track criminals, but this only works if the criminal is in possession of a GPS-enabled phone, that they have not disabled, jammed or spoofed the GPS chip inside the phone and they are not indoors, where it is near-impossible for GPS satellites to obtain a location fix. Likewise, criminal tracking using GPS is not always reliable.

A standards-based alternative location method is Radio Frequency Pattern Matching (RFPM), which uses a mobile device’s own radio signals to identify its owner’s location. RFPM is able to locate suspects across any air interface and in any environment, eliminating limitations related to the device type or network technology. RFPM works well in non line-of-sight conditions such as dense urban and indoor environments and cannot be disabled by the criminal making it reliable for mission-critical law enforcement needs.

In addition to policing, an emergency response system could be improved by using high-accuracy location. High-accuracy location could be better integrated to provide detailed intelligence for both first responders and emergency callers. For example, when texting 911, similar emergency calls in a given radius could be identified to alert authorities to larger emergencies, such as a major car accident or natural disaster. Transmitting a geo-tagged photo could help emergency responders locate someone in a crowded sports stadium or shopping mall. And indoor location, which RF Pattern matching uniquely enables as a software-only solution, is vital in tragedies such as school shootings.

Long used by federal and state governments as a national security tool, location technology is beginning to be embraced by city and county governments because of its many efficiency, analytics, and safety benefits.

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