The NYPD is beginning to equip all its 35,000 cops with smartphones that will include sophisticated crime-fighting tools, part of a $160 million plan to let officers search databases, browse wanted posters and check suspects' fingerprints from virtually anywhere.
Using the devices, officers being dispatched to a "job" could access a range of information about their pending destination: the address's previous police visits, details about who lives there and even the verbatim notes a 911 operator types in from a caller.
The gear would also allow the department's brass to audit a user's every tap and search term and track via GPS an officer's every move on duty.
Mayor Bill de Blasio said he hopes the program can be fully implemented by next year. It's being funded with criminal forfeiture money and also calls for outfitting 6,000 department vehicles with computer tablets that have the same capabilities.
De Blasio predicted the technology would lead to more summonses in place of arrests because officers can verify identities and check for warrants without having to take a person to the station house.
"You can literally, with this technology, take a fingerprint on a street corner," de Blasio told reporters Thursday morning at a news conference.
Christopher Dunn, the New York Civil Liberties Union's associate legal director, praised the devices' potential for reducing the number of arrests, but said there was also potential for "serious abuses."
"Any street fingerprinting program must have strict safeguards to make sure that people are not coerced into surrendering their prints, the prints of law-abiding people are promptly destroyed, and that the program does not become a vehicle for state and federal authorities to build unauthorized fingerprint databases," Dunn said.
The NYPD and de Blasio administration did not return messages seeking clarification.
Police Commissioner William J. Bratton acknowledged that the ability to track cops by GPS could raise alarm with officers' labor unions, but said that objections voiced by some unions to past innovations, such as of name tags, have faded with time. He noted that the GPS capability could help locate an officer who's in danger and can't report his own location.
A call for comment to the largest NYPD union, the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, was not returned Thursday.
To demonstrate the devices' versatility -- they are "ruggedized," as the NYPD put it -- Bratton's deputy commissioner for information technology, Jessica S. Tisch, dropped a Panasonic Toughbook to the floor. The smartphone devices also would be ruggedized.
"Waterproof, coffee-proof," Bratton said. "That's very important."
Police in Nassau and Suffolk counties would not say whether they plan to equip officers with similar smartphones.