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The police officer's new partner: iPhone

Chances are you've never heard of the iPhone app One Force Tracker, one of the coolest apps never to appear on the App Store. The iPhone app, created by defense contractor Raytheon for the U.S. military late last year, helps soldiers keep tabs with each other via GPS during missions and identifies known sniper sites and fallback positions on a map.

Raytheon has hired Mike Bostic, a retired assistant chief of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), to bring the app to the home front. Perhaps soon, SWAT teams will be using a version of the app on the mean streets of southern California.

"The public safety market and the military market are actually needing the same capabilities," says Bostic, director of west coast operations for civil communications at Raytheon.

The GPS advantage

Consumers have long known about the iPhone's capabilities, and demand is reaching an all-time high. Enterprises and even IT departments are slowly warming to the iPhone and iPad. And now signs point to mobile apps making their way into the public sector, especially among first responders. Not merely for Foursquare fun and games, location-based apps are beginning to tackle real emergencies. For instance, earlier this summer, patrol boats with the Emergency Management Division of Santa Rosa County Florida began using TimeTrack Gold, an app running on the Sprint wireless network that helps boat operators record and transmit oil spill locations via GPS.

Nevertheless, iPhones and mobile apps are a pretty big step for the public sector, which is often considered a laggard in technology adoption. What about the fancy tech gear in futuristic cop movies like Minority Report? Nope, says Bostic.

During his three-decades-long police career, Bostic wore many hats at the LAPD, including overseeing some IT functions and communications. "In police work, we're probably 20 years behind in technological capability," he says. "We're using the same handheld radio that costs many thousands of dollars but has a thousand times less capability than the cell phone that I have on my hip."

Nondescript SWAT Team Tool

With One Force Tracker, though, SWAT teams will be able to storm buildings without running into each other, he says. Bostic envisions a leader watching up to 20 officers moving on a grid in real time and then directing them where to go via texting or voice.

On a stakeout or surveillance operation, One Force Tracker would be ideal, Bostic says. Imagine undercover officers milling around with an iPhone or Droid (One Force Tracker also has a Droid version) and earbuds, while secretly communicating with each other and knowing the locations of other officers. "Everyone has an iPhone, so you don't stick out," Bostic says.

Some hurdles remain before the iPhone helps collar criminals. For starters, Ratheon needs to tune One Force Tracker for law enforcement and develop a commercial server system. Then there's the issue of AT&T coverage and reliability—"I know the skepticism of firemen and police," Bostic says, "they don't like the drop-off of digital."

Nevertheless, Bostic says, "cops are chomping at the bit" to get One Force Tracker after he showed it to some of his friends. "A couple of [police] departments have already bought iPhones and are waiting for us," he says. "We're hoping to get some test units out to some agencies in the next few weeks."

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