Speech Technology Speeds Police Response

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Police officers in Waite Park, MN, a small city just west of St. Cloud, respond to about 10,000 service calls and make about 700 arrests per year. They create an average of 10 incident reports per day. And while those numbers might not seem like a lot in comparison to other cities, accurately reporting on each incident can take a lot of time, especially since many of them involve multiple interviews with victims, suspects, and witnesses.

"We have to document everything we do," says Tim Deschene, one of 15 full-time police officers employed by the city of 8,000 residents. "If we arrest someone, we need to have him before a judge within forty-eight hours, which means that we have to have all the paperwork to the prosecutors within twenty-four hours so they can start to prepare their case."

To create these reports, officers previously had to dictate into mobile digital recorders from their squad cars. They would bring the recordings back to the station at the end of their shifts to upload to their PCs for transcription by the department's five civilian employees.

The fast turnaround time required often meant that the three full-time and two part-time employees needed to drive to the station after hours or on weekends, a significant hardship, especially during harsh Minnesota winters. "We would have to wake up the staff in the middle of the night to get started on the paperwork," Deschene recalls.

To improve report workflows, the department explored a number of options. Outsourcing transcription was not a viable option, as it would have been cost-prohibitive.

In the fall of 2011, Waite Park Police began working with Chader Voice Technology, a local distributor of digital dictation, speech recognition, and text packages, to deploy Philips digital voice equipment. The first step was to outfit officers with Philips Pocket Memo digital handheld recorders, which they use to make recordings and transfer dictations to a secure cloud-based storage location. Instead of waiting until the end of the officers’ shifts, staff can access recordings as soon as they're uploaded.

A few months later, Chader Voice Technology furnished the department with Philips SpeechMike dictation microphones integrated with Nuance Communications’ Dragon NaturallySpeaking. The speech recognition software converts spoken words to text with up to 98 percent accuracy.

To achieve an accurate transcription, the Dragon software needs to be trained to each speaker's unique voice. Waite Park tested Dragon with three officers, each with very different speaking styles, before fully rolling it out.

There was a bit of a learning curve, but once that was dealt with, the speech technology quickly won over everyone in the department, according to Deschene, who led the cloud-based implementation.

By eliminating the in-station transcription step through SpeechMike and Dragon NaturallySpeaking, each Waite Park officer saves approximately 10 hours per week. "With that time, cops can stay in their cars and stay visible in the community," Deschene says.

The new system enables transcriptionists to access officers' dictations on their home computers via secure Web connections to the department's servers. They can send completed transcriptions to officers for review by email.

Transcriptionists no longer need to travel to the station after hours, resulting in a decrease in the department's overtime costs. "We're definitely saving tens of thousands of dollars on wages that we used to have to pay for people to come in," Deschene says. "That's a huge budget savings for the people of the city."

Using Philips SpeechExec, investigators and supervisors can also access dictations and interviews performed by other officers, even when they are away from the office.

The technology upgrades have had a dramatic effect on the report turnaround cycle. "Our report time has been cut in half," Deschene says. "Our people are not spending time transcribing reports and traveling into the office."

That has benefited the department in other ways. It has, for example, boosted the morale of the employees. "The staff likes it because they don't have to come in on nights and weekends anymore. They can do their work at their kitchen tables in their slippers and pajamas if they need to," Deschene says.

"Speeding up the entire judicial process benefits the community as a whole," says Deschene, who calls the Philips and Nuance technology "a great time-saver for our department."

Also helping to make the transition a smooth one was the fact that Dragon NaturallySpeaking and the Philips equipment are fully compatible. In fact, Nuance awarded SpeechMike its highest ranking for speech recognition accuracy, microphone quality, and recording clarity. The free-floating microphone practically eliminates all background noise, making it well suited for busy police environments.

"Other state governments are looking at us and what we are doing to possibly incorporate the technology into their departments," Deschene says.

For a department like Waite Park's, which doesn't have an around-the-clock support staff, "being able to work on your own more efficiently is a major bonus," he concludes. 

 App at a Glance

Since depolying Nuance Communications' Dragon NaturallySpeaking and Philips's SpeechMike, Pocket Memo, and SpeechExec equipment, the Waite Park, MN, police department has: 

  • reduced the amount of time needed to generate reports by half;
  • saved tens of thousands of dollars in overtime; and
  • eliminated 10 hours per officer per week spent on transcriptions.

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