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Constable Casey Watson is a convert after admitting he was hesitant about using Police’s newest frontline technology – Digital Notebook. Now, it not only saves him time but he says he feels safer.

Casey is a frontline officer in Foxton’s Public Safety Team and was one of 65 Central District officers in a five-week Digital Notebook pilot earlier this year. The pilot group was also first in line when the national rollout of Digital Notebook began last month.

There are two facets to the Digital Notebook intelligence, evidence and investigative tool:

  • The Digital Notebook iPhone app allows officers to securely log duties, interactions, observations, actions and decisions; and captures a timeline of times, dates, places, people, signatures and events. It integrates information from other applications such as computer aided dispatch (Card) and the OnDuty query and tasking application.
  • Digital Notebook Office (for desktop) allows approved users to search and view Digital Notebook entries (except those marked private). It also allows officers to select one or more of their own entries to include in a printable PDF extract for court purposes. All search history is auditable.

“I was a bit unsure at the start because you’re just so used to using your [paper] notebook,” Casey says. “But once you get into the swing of using it, it has all kinds of advantages. I'm definitely committed to using it.”

One of the biggest benefits Casey sees in using the app is it can make some situations less dangerous. “Safety-wise, it’s a lot easier to have your phone and still keep the person in front of you while you're talking to them and jotting things into it than it would be if you had to move away to lean on something to write.

“When you're writing [on paper], you can be taking your eyes off that person. Also, you’re often already using your phone for OnDuty checks. It's a lot easier to put just your phone away if the situation changes than it is to put your notebook and pen away. The practicality of it is a lot better.”

Signature move

One of Casey’s favourite features is that signatures can be recorded in Digital Notebook so he’s not wasting time switching between mediums. “If you're doing questions and answers [and need it signed], you can deal with it on the spot. You’re not having to go backwards and forwards between paper and digital.”

Casey is also impressed by the locking function when a phone is handed over to collect a signature. “Straightaway, as soon as you're going into that, you know they can’t edit or delete, or anything. The phone’s functions can’t be used except for signing.”

The phone is disabled until the officer enters a code to unlock it.

Another feature that Casey likes is he doesn’t have to replicate information and there are functions that help eliminate human error. “I like how when you go 10-7 and 10-2 and all that stuff that you transmit through to comms, it automatically gets put in.

“Sometimes it might be a hectic job and you don't have the opportunity to get your notebook out straight away to jot down when you got there and the address and all that stuff. Now, because all those details have been passed on to comms, that's already going into your Digital Notebook. So you know the accuracy of job details and attendance is spot on.

“Also, being able to transfer all the information from OnDuty straight to the Digital Notebook without having to rewrite it has been quite a big time saver. You just click on the OnDuty button and that’ll add it in Notebook straight to the job that you’re currently assigned to.”

Casey says a bonus of having everything in one place is that records are likely to be more up to date. “Because it's right in front of you, you're more likely to ask [for correct addresses and phone numbers] and confirm them. So your data is probably going to be a bit more accurate.”

One question about Digital Notebook is whether it drains a phone’s battery more quickly than normal. ReFrame digital capability lead Inspector Mark Donaldson says no noticeable impact on battery drainage was reported in the feedback from the pilot.

“We are mindful of this as we move to an increasingly digital environment. Battery drainage will be taken into consideration when planning our next mobility refresh,” says Mark.

“We asked our pilot group to test a range of key features, share feedback on how they found using Digital Notebook, identify any issues and suggest improvements for the future. Their feedback helped to finalise Digital Notebook and our approach to launching it.

“The design and delivery of Digital Notebook is a great example of collaboration across the ReFrame programme, mobility/digital and ICT, plus the input from representatives across Police,” he says.

Courting new technology

Casey is also enjoying the benefits of using Digital Notebook Office for court preparation.

“It is way more efficient than having to find notebook pages, mark them and photocopy them... sometimes I go back to my notebooks and struggle to read what I've written.

“Desktop is awesome. It saves you time because you can search all your notes and convert what you need to a PDF straight from the computer. It's all easy and it's right in front of you. I'm not super tech savvy and I didn't find it hard. It's a big time saver.”

Casey’s advice to those next in the rollout: “Change is what you make of it. Commit and give it a chance.” Next up for Casey is having a go at using Siri dictation for his notes instead of manual typing.

Rollout of the Digital Notebook iPhone app

September: Central District
November 7, 2023: Wellington and Canterbury districts
March 2024: All remaining districts

Using Digital Notebook will not be mandatory until after the national rollout is completed and Police is confident all users’ needs have been met. Paper notebooks will always be available for use in business continuity situations.

Digital Notebook Office was made available nationally in September to frontline staff and those who support their work, including Intelligence, the Criminal Justice Support Unit, Integrity and Conduct, Investigations, Vetting, File Management and Transcription Services, Information Requests (previously OIA), and Station Support Officers. Post rollout, there will be 12,000 Digital Notebook app and/or Digital Notebook Office users.

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