The new Estonian e-Police system is a sight to behold

22.03.2017

After just a year of development, Estonia’s new efficient e-Police system is fully up and running, providing all the necessary data, instantly, for officers working in the field.

For anyone familiar with the basics of software development, it might sound crazy, when someone says, that they are going to create a complex working ecosystem for the governmental sector within one year. But that’s exactly what the IT and Development Centre of the Ministry of the Interior (SMIT) achieved with the new Estonian e-Police system. Essentially, the e-Police system consists of two primary parts. The first is a rugged portable weatherproof tablet computer that is used police vehicles. The other part is a specially designed web-based modular software solution that can be used by the officers to access all of the information they need. As the software is web-based, no sensitive information is stored in the device itself but is accessed via a safe data transfer infrastructure called X-road.

All of these devices are connected to multiple key databases through a secure data exchange channel. This provides police officers all the information they need at their fingertips, to be accessed immediately when they need any facts. For example, they can use the system to see, if a driver’s license is valid or make sure, that there is no arrest-warrant issued for any person they are questioning. These requests now take a mere 2-3 seconds. Previously it could take up to a minute to access this information.

Because the new system uses rugged tablet computers, police officers take their system everywhere they go. For example, the officer can even take a tablet when in pursuit of a suspect. Also, with a special map application, officers can see in real time, where other patrols are located, this coordinates their efforts more effectively. The new systems enables officers to use digital work-sheets, which makes work a lot easier: there is need for lots of paper-work, instead all the day’s activities are automatically compiled into a digital daily report.

The new system has two main modules: the map module and the information request module. In future, more options will be added to the system, for example, this year SMIT will add a module for issuing work orders.

The new system crosses borders

Thanks to recent developments, the e-Police systems are being integrated with other countries’ databases. For example, take Finland.

Estonian and Finnish authorities recently agreed to establish the Nordic Institute for Interoperability Solutions. In essence this links the Estonian and Finnish individual data ‘X-roads’, so data from Finnish databases can be accessed from Estonia, and vice-versa.

The e-Police system will make life easier for everyone. As there are a lot of Finnish tourists visiting Estonia every year, it is only natural that they too may sometimes have to interact with Estonian police officers. Thanks to the new data sharing network, Estonian police could for example check a Finnish driver’s data and history, which was previously not possible. The new Nordic institute means ever-deeper cooperation between Finland and Estonia. It also enables cross-border cooperation among several other countries. So far bilateral agreements have been required for all e-operations across national borders,” says the Finnish Minister of Local Government and Public Reforms Anu Vehviläinen.

The secret is in the speed

Estonia is naturally not the only country, where police officers can use a web-based system. However, where the magic happens, is the speed with which the system was created. It might come as a surprise, but to develop the first working product took only six months.

Scrum master at SMIT, Imre Kollo explained, that when they started to develop the system a year ago, nobody but themselves believed that in half a year they could create a system, that the client could use, but that’s exactly what happened. And the secret as to how SMIT was able to pull it off, is actually quite simple: SMIT used agile development methods, which enable them to create the integrated solution in different stages and whenever a new stage was completed, the client immediately had a larger, usable, integrated solution.

The finns are next in line

One of the biggest selling points of the e-Police system is its usability or in fancier terms UX. The user interface is made in such a way that no training is required to be able to for use it. Instead each user may intuitively learn to use it in a matter of seconds. Owing to this ease of use and a unique style of displaying information, other countries including Finland have already shown interest in developing a similar system. It’s worth noting, however, that because of technical constraints, no country could ever have the exact same system as is used in Estonia.

The reason is simple: in Estonia, a large part of the IT-infrastructure is based on Estonia’s unique X-road. In all other countries different systems are used. This means that even if SMIT wanted to export the system, changes will first need to be made.
According to Kollo, SMIT is still able to advise other countries interested in the system. For example, a valuable lesson could be shared about the potential mistakes that can result during the development process and how to avoid them.
At this time, there are 222 Estonian police vehicles, that are equipped with the new e-Police system and in future, even more vehicles will be upgraded to use the newest solution.

The project is funded by the European Union’s Internal Security Fund and the Estonian Ministry of the Interior.