Our partners – OC Transpo Special Constable Unit

The OC Transpo Special Constable Unit are designated peace officer consisting of 48 sworn members Peace Officers within the City of Ottawa. OC Transpo Special Constables are responsible for upholding Federal, Provincial and Municipal Legislation as well as providing customer service to all its transit users on all related transit properties. Special Constables have the power to investigate and enforce the Criminal Code of Canada in relation to any of the public transit properties, city’s public transit busses, light rail transit system across the city of Ottawa. On average, the Special Constables proactively engage and respond to more than 20,000 calls for service per year.

“We’re responsible for policing the entire transit system in the City of Ottawa,” says OC Transpo Manager & Chief Special Constable James Babe. “Any incidents that occur on or in relation to transit come under our purview, and we deploy uniform staff 24/7, including foot patrols and travelling between our stations in vehicles or on transit around the clock. In addition to enforcing the Criminal Code of Canada, we enforce the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, Provincial Offences Act, Liquor License and Control Act, Safe Streets Act, Mental Health Act, as well as all City of Ottawa transit by-laws.”

Understanding their needs – time and efficiency

For years, the OC Transpo Special Constables faced a critical lack of technology in the field: while their headquarters were home to some advanced communications equipment, officers who were out on patrol lacked any sort of handheld device capable of logging into the Canadian Police Information Centre, meaning that they would have to radio into their dispatch to perform a record check every single time they would engage with a suspect. There were difficulties surround filing reports, with Special Constables often having to dedicate several hours of their shifts just to head back to the office, the only place where doing the writeups were possible.

“And because of that, reporting in a timely manner wasn’t always feasible,” says OC Transpo Superintendent Special Constable Jonathan Desnoyers. “If officers were in the west end of the city, that meant they would probably have to file their reports on their next shift or the next day – or, we would have to move the entire platoon around and bring west units east to do their reports, while moving east units to the west to compensate. It made for a lot of headaches. We really needed something so that if we were on foot or on the train, we would be able to access and run CPIC, do quick reporting, and be able to access our database remotely.”

At the time, the Special Constables were also storing their information in an Oracle-based system, a program not unlike Microsoft Excel spreadsheets – meaning practically all information and any records management data had to entered and stored manually, costing the unit even more precious time and resources.

“The biggest thing in law enforcement has always been being able to have the officer in the field more than they’re at their desk,” says Al Rivers, FSET Chief Information Officer. “Being able to work and do everything you need to do from anywhere saves countless manhours, and in this case, it was really needed.”

“They desperately needed real-time information directly at their fingertips,” adds FSET COO Nicole Brown. “The biggest thing I kept hearing, was the time it would take for the Special Constables to handle a single file, and how much back and forth it would take to get the job done – there was just so much delay, which prevented them from being able to serve as well as they could be.”

Back at the drawing board, FSET CEO David Brown was certain he could leverage his company’s 60+ years of combined experience working with law enforcement information technology (LEIT) to create a solution that wouldn’t only meet, but exceed the needs on the table.

Digital Transformation – #ConnectedOfficer and #MobilityFirst

In 2017, the OC Transpo Special Constables officially became members of the Ontario Police Technology Information Cooperative (OPTIC), a provincial policing coalition aimed at providing state-of-the-art information technology and records management systems (RMS) to member agencies through a shared data network.

By joining OPTIC, OC Transpo Special Constables gained access to an RMS hosted and supported by the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, allowing them to take part in what the coalition calls intelligence-based policing. So too was the door opened for a partnership with FSET, which provides service for several OPTIC member agencies.

FSET and the OC Transpo Special Constables soon began working together to figure out how to revolutionize the force by making NicheRMS365 – OPTIC’s default RMS – available to officers in the field, aimed at eliminating the need for back and forth with their headquarters in favour of completing reports while on patrol.

FSET knew the Special Constables would benefit from having a satellite desktop, accessible anywhere, anytime without any barriers. While officers first experimented with the idea of carrying around tablets and laptops, they were quickly found to be cumbersome, and that was before crossed wires clogging up the back of their cruisers made it clear any plan to haul around larger equipment just wouldn’t work.

The team at FSET quickly realized that in order to have a truly #ConnectedOfficer, smartphones – or more specifically, Samsung DeX technology – were what the Special Constables needed. But the question was, how? At the time, there simply wasn’t a way to securely access Niche RMS on mobile devices.

Around the start of 2020, OC Transpo Superintendent Jonathan Desnoyers took over the project portfolio on the Special Constables’ side. He too wanted to figure out a way to make what was on the table work.

“We were selected to be the champions of the work, to test out ideas and experiment with all of the features that FSET was looking to implement,” says Superintendent Desnoyers. “It was trial and error, submitting tickets, finding glitches, and testing programs, all while making sure everything was connected securely.”

“It was a lot of investigation – test this app, try out that one, see what works, and then build on it,” adds Al Rivers, FSET CIO. “It was a learning process of understanding what the best and most functional applications and software were, and then how they could all fit together to work cohesively on a DeX-ready smartphone. We had a lot of drive and desire to try and figure everything out.”

And so, #MobilityFirst emerged – the idea of having an officer be able to access Niche RMS on Samsung phones through Mobile Innovation Corp’s Mobile Police Assist (MPA Niche), which could also be seamlessly plugged into screens in both their cruisers and back at the office through Samsung DeX technology. Desnoyers created a small group of Special Constables to help test the solution step-by-step, serving as the basis for his own agency-wide training manual before the prototype was eventually launched for all of its 48 officers.

“We did the work to put all of these applications together,” says Rivers. “It was a lot of long hours, testing and re-testing different configurations and server iterations, all based on the vision that an officer would be able to use a single mobile device as their computer.”

“There was definitely a learning curve, but because we were the champions of this technology, we stuck with it, figured it all out, and ended up coming out on top with some brand-new state-of-the-art technology,” adds Superintendent Desnoyers.

The results

Since transitioning to FSET’s #MobilityFirst solution, every OC Transpo Special Constable has become a #ConnectedOfficer with Niche RMS and other critical tools always at their fingertips. No longer do Special Constables have to travel across the city to file reports or wait to verify information with other agencies such as external agencies, they can do it themselves whether it’s in the office, in the cruiser, or out on the street thanks to power of digital transformation.

“We have a variety of officers at different age groups, and everyone seems to have picked up the technology very well,” says Superintendent Desnoyers. “It’s extremely user-friendly. I’ve had officers call me on my days off to say, ‘Hey, thank you for this, I know it was a long process to get it all done, but it’s a great system.’ So far, the feedback has been amazing, and the technology has raised our service to another bar.”

Ask Desnoyers, and he’ll tell you the benefits of #MobilityFirst are practically endless. If officers need to, they can take video statements or add photo evidence directly into their records management system. In the summertime, the Superintendent also expects the technology to open the door to a new mobile reporting system for the bike patrol unit. The technology would allow for more flexible foot patrols, where previously they had limited accessibility to the office for reporting while on shift. Not only does the technology save the unit time, but it also makes the officers more visible by keeping them at transit stations. And as it stands, agency cruisers are already being factory built to accommodate Samsung DeX technology.

“It’s exciting, because for a long time, we did not have any reporting system other than the office,” says Superintendent Desnoyers. “Now, we’re one of the leading-edge agencies in mobility. The technology, it makes our officers’ lives so much easier, everyone is seriously impressed, and job satisfaction has gone way up. We’ve taken a really big stride forward with FSET, and #MobilityFirst has changed the way we do our jobs, enabling us to be visible and where our community needs us rather than in the office.”

“If you look at the geographical area of Ottawa, you can fit all of metropolitan Toronto in it, you can fit the City of Calgary and a few other large areas within the boundaries of our city,” adds Chief Babe. “With this system, our officers are able to do anything they need to from that mobile application, so instead of losing them for a quarter of their shift by coming back to the office to do a report, that officer never leaves their patrol and remains available for calls. It’s been huge for us – and I think it’s just scratching the surface of potential, like it’s the tip of an iceberg and the sky’s the limit.”

Congratulations and thank you to the OC Transpo Special Constables

FSET is beyond grateful for the opportunity to work with the OC Transpo Special Constables. In our pursuit of technical excellence and cutting-edge solutions, we need strong partners to help us understand and test technology in the field. #MobilityFirst and the FSET #ConnectedOfficer would not be possible if it weren’t for the dedication of the Special Constables, and especially Superintendent Jonathan Desnoyers taking it upon himself to champion our cause and lead the way toward our shared goals and support from OC Transpo Manager & Chief Special Constable James Babe. Thanks to this partnership, FSET is now looking at introducing #MobilityFirst and the #ConnectedOfficer for several other police agencies across the country.

“I’m really proud of our work together,” says Nicole Brown, FSET COO. “It was a long time in the making, and everyone involved put so much effort into making the project happen. Jonathan and the rest of the OC Transpo Special Constables really embraced it, and they were the perfect partners because they saw the power of what digital transformation can do for an organization. Giving those officers the ability to do their jobs better is huge, and FSET is ecstatic for the part we played and the opportunity for us to have learned so much.”

“FSET is about innovation and responsiveness,” adds CIO Al Rivers. “We’re not afraid to push the envelope, and that’s exactly what we did here to break ground. Being able to work with the agencies we support like the OC Transpo Special Constable unit is not only great for us, but great for them as well. It was fantastic to partner up and work together, and my hat is truly off to them.”

From everyone at the FSET team, thank you so much to the OC Transpo Special Constables not only for helping us, but for all of the great work that you do each and every day.

The #MobilityFirst solution would not be possible without our partners involved in this initiative. Thanks to our extraordinary partnerships, we are bringing the office to the officer with the right combination of software, applications and hardware: Citrix, Nutanix, Gamber-Johnson, NetMotion, Samsun, Entrust, Mobile Innovation, NicheRMS, and more.

To watch a video about FSET’s digital transformation journey with the OC Transpo Special Constable unit, click here.

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