The New York Police Department is replacing the memo books used by over 30,000 officers to track everything from patrol assignments and 911 calls to arrest records with an iOS app, the New York Times reported on Wednesday.
The NYPD has used the memo books for over a century and still prints 10,000 of them a month, but they’re being replaced on Feb. 17, 2020 with iPhones using an app that connects to department databases. As the Times noted, the memo books have historically been important not just for officers to log their time on the job but as a record of law enforcement perspective on cases in court. NYPD officials “say the transition will help eliminate possible abuses, such as faking entries, and having to sort through indecipherable handwriting,” the paper wrote, with Deputy Chief Anthony Tasso of the Information Technology Bureau saying that it will allow instant access to records that might have formerly been in somebody’s locker.
“It gives us the abilities we did not have before, when memo books were left in officers’ lockers and we didn’t have access to a vast amount of information,” Tasso told the Times. Supervisors will also be able to monitor their subordinates and sign off on their records remotely, while information like “patrol shifts, their police vehicles, 911 responses and other information, including photos” will be recorded in a standardized format, according to the paper.
Using an app won’t prevent officers from entering false information, or, say, highly biased information, though former NYPD detective and famous whistleblower Frank Serpico told the Times it may prevent tricks like leaving empty gaps in memo pages to later be filled in. There’s also other potential implications, such as whether the app will work correctly (surely nothing could go wrong!) or if it could expose the department to cyber attacks or data breaches.
Last year, the NYPD was forced to temporarily shut down its fingerprint database after a contractor reportedly plugged a NUC mini-PC containing ransomware into a connected system. The city of Baltimore, for example, has experienced multiple ransomware attacks, including one that tried to shut down its 911 system. The NYPD’s app appears to be mostly for recording events rather than responding to them, but any issues with the system could still hobble police activity.
Privacy could also be an issue. The NYPD kept an illegal database of fingerprints taken from children for decades, and the New York Post recently reported that officers appear to be using the creepy Clearview AI face recognition service despite warnings from its own face recognition department that it might not be secure and has potential for abuse. The NYPD also maintains an automated system to help officers and analysts identify patterns in crimes, which has raised the issue of data trained on historical patterns being used for racial and gender profiling. It also conducts cell phone and social media surveillance of protesters, while department lawyers are notoriously aggressive about countering any claims of abusive practices.