Secure messaging for public safety

One of the biggest challenges facing public safety agencies is the speed and control of communications. When a major incident occurs, it can be difficult to get everyone on the same page, whether it’s one organization or many. While text messaging can be an easy way to reach multiple people at once, it’s not secure and can cause legal issues. A retired police chief has dealt with this problem firsthand and is trying to change the way law enforcement officers and other first responders communicate through a new smartphone app.

Jeff Halstead, former Fort Worth, Texas police chief and co-founder and chairman of Las Vegas-based Evertel, which was acquired by WSI Technologies in 2021, recently spoke with OFFICER magazine about how the app has already helped public safety departments secure their on- and off-duty phone communications.

Recognize a need

During his 27-year career, Halstead’s most advanced form of internal communication was mass email. With the advancement of social media, he has seen how quickly rumors and misinformation can spread. “In law enforcement, we can’t keep up with social media posts – one tweet can impact millions of viewers in minutes,” he says. “We saw massive protests, flash mobs and serious groups of angry activists mobilized within minutes. During this time, we were here in law enforcement, writing emails to brief and update our officers. I knew there had to be a better way for agents to be informed in real time to avoid communication complications. »

Upon his retirement in 2015, he moved to Las Vegas and focused his energy on finding and creating a secure and efficient method for agencies and their agents to share information and intelligence. “At the time, no satisfactory solution existed, and I realized that if there was going to be one, it would have to be built,” he says. In Vegas, he was meeting his current partners, who had experience building software platforms and mobile apps. Together they launched the beta version of BLUE in the spring of 2017, focused solely on police services. That fall, an incident near their home would change their mission.

On October 1, 2017, a gunman opened fire from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel into a crowd attending the Route 91 Harvest music festival on the Las Vegas Strip. Sixty people were killed and more than 400 others were injured. It was the largest mass shooting in US history.

“In addition to day-to-day operations, we realized that police, fire, EMS and all first responders needed the ability to collaborate, share intelligence and deploy from their smartphones before, during and after. these massive crisis events,” says Halstead. . BLUE has relaunched with intra-agency and intra-first responder capabilities. As BLUE became used by more and more agencies, it was rebranded as “Evertel” to capture the smartphone app’s inclusive mission to serve all public safety agencies. “Since so many technology platforms only allow agencies to share with agencies like Evertel on the same platform, our engineers have created the ability to share information about crime, people wanted, missing persons and any important information with as many agencies as they need,” said Halstead. , adding that agencies using Evertel don’t have to pay any additional fees to connect with other agencies, and those agencies don’t need to be registered with Evertel to join a chat as guests.

Get Membership

Haltom City Police Chief Cody Phillips had known Halstead since he was chief of Fort Worth. In the latter part of 2018, Halstead asked Phillips if his department would be interested in using Evertel. Phillips reluctantly told him yes, knowing it would be a tough sell to his staff. “The problem with cops is that they hate change, and they also hate the way things are. So you can’t have one without the other,” he says. It was a bit difficult to launch this new platform and gain acceptance, buy-in and consistent use.”

When the department first started using the app, some of the officers were frustrated because it was something new they were being asked to use. He emailed his staff. “Give him a chance. We are only weeks away from the program, and you are frustrated that it will be pushed back, but with anything, give it a chance, ”he wrote. “If that doesn’t work, it’s just as easy to pull the plug out as it is to get in. With anything, they say it takes 21 days to form a habit. Just give it a chance to work.

In 2019, a Texas state law was passed requiring the retention of text messages and work-related documents of government employees, including first responders. Phillips says the software has played a big role in complying with the new law. Phillips says that in his conversations with Halstead, he made sure none of the app information would be stored on officers’ phones. “One of the biggest concerns is that officers don’t want to put things on their phones because they don’t want their phones to become evidence,” he says. “Everything is done at Evertel. You don’t have to worry about the county or city having to provide a service to store this information to meet state law retention requirements.

Before Evertel, Phillips said there were different layers of communication, from email to SMS. “There were so many different platforms people were using and not everyone had access to the same information at exactly the same time,” he says. “An officer may have email but may not have email installed on their phone outside of work and the ability to provide information quickly and factually is not there because there is no access.”

So far, the department has primarily used Evertel to consolidate communications during major events and to share crime and gang information. He says Evertel quickly put information within reach of its agents and made the way the department communicates internally more efficient. In the app, different groups can be created for each event and unit. Each has a file number and the office next to it. Haltom City has set up groups for CID, SWAT, Traffic and each team also has its own group.

Information Sharing

He says what really sold his department on Evertel was an investigation into the stabbing death of an UberEats driver in January 2021. “It was our first big incident with which we were able to use Evertel, and we were able to get information out to everyone in the department quickly and a chain of communication started from the officers who were working the day before,” he says. “It was very crucial in this case to move forward as quickly as it did, to identify these people and take them into custody as quickly as we did.”

Two minors were arrested in the driver’s murder and Phillips says the defense attorney was expected to question all aspects of the interaction due to their age. “We were able to recover the archived communication from Evertel. The messages are timestamped and show a chronological order of all our communications,” he says. “It was time stamped from start to finish, right up to their custody. We were able to present that to the district attorney and that helped this case.”

Most recently, on July 2, 2022, a gunman killed two people in a home and injured three Haltom City police officers and a neighbor before killing himself. “We were able to get factual information out quickly so everyone had the same information about officers’ injuries, where they were, and what we needed,” says Phillips. “Everyone received this information, which minimized the number of phone calls to the administration; this minimized phone calls to people who were at work.