Smartphones for Toronto officers untether police from squad cars, police stations

A group of downtown police officers are being given smartphones that let them carry out many police tasks away from police stations and squad cars.

1st recommendation of police modernization plan is to equip officers with 'mobile workstations'

By the end of the month, almost 240 officers at a downtown division will be given new smartphones, allowing them to do police work while on the go. (CBC)

The Toronto Police Service (TPS) is giving frontline officers new smartphones as part of their push to modernize the force.

The "connected officer program," as the TPS describes it, is the first of 32 recommendations included in Action Plan: The Way Forward, a plan put out in January 2017 to create an "innovative, sustainable, and affordable" way to police a "dramatically" changing city.

"We don't want to be tied to the scout car, because we want to be out talking to people," said Const. John-Paul Oddi, who has been trying out the phone for the past eight months. "It also helps us take the information from the community and get that out to other officers."

The goal, according to The Way Forward, is to save officers from time-consuming trips to a police station to do paperwork or long spells spent working at laptop computers inside squad cars.

Const. John-Paul Oddi says the new phones, one of which he's been using for eight months now, have been a huge help, allowing him to transmit information like a suspect description to other officers faster than ever before. (CBC)

By the end of February, 236 officers at 51 Division, which covers a section of downtown Toronto bordered by Bloor Street East, Yonge Street, and the Don Valley Parkway, will be issued the smartphones, with other divisions to follow.

Frontline officers have not previously been issued any kind of phone, instead using police radios to communicate. 

Less desk and car, more walking

The Way Forward's larger move is towards "neighbourhood policing" — an approach that will see cops be more accessible and present on the sidewalks of Toronto.

"It may look like a step back in time," Staff Sgt. Gregory Watts said last January of the return to traditional beat policing. "It worked then, it will work now."

Less old fashioned are the Samsung Galaxy S8+ phones soon to be carried by all frontline officers, which will allow officers to do research and communicate with other law enforcement.

The phones are also a help for plainclothes officers, said Const. Marc Hayford.

"You don't have any access to computers, photographs, anything like that, you're out in jeans and a T-shirt," he said on Wednesday. "It allowed me to do almost everything I was able to do from my desk."

The new devices will also stop officers from whipping out their personal phones in the field, which The Way Forward described as an "increasingly" common behaviour that poses security risks.

With files from Trevor Dunn