Learn what agencies need to know about department-issued cell phones, smartphones and BYOD policies

Author: Phil Muncaster

Near-real time situational awareness is critical for public safety agencies—and for many officers that typically involves using smartphones whether it is their own or a department-issued cell phone. Typically, department-issued cell phones and smartphones, sometimes called government phones often end up in the hands of commanders and administrators, while personnel in the field usually rely on their own devices or smartphones.1

There are bring your own device (BYOD) advantages and disadvantages which agencies and organizations must consider. For instance, security, compliance and productivity challenges associated with BYOD policies should be compared to the many benefits of using department-issued cell phones and smartphones.

Why use department-issued cell phones and smartphones for public safety?

The vast majority of public safety personnel, about 88%, use smartphones on a daily basis, according to the Verizon Frontline 2023 Public Safety Communications Survey.2 These devices can be an important source of real-time mission-critical information and help enable officers to benefit from uninterrupted workflows as they transition from the field to the office. Smartphones are especially valuable for public safety personnel, like police who work on foot, by bicycle, motorcycle, in plainclothes or in other scenarios where a traditional vehicle and in-vehicle computer are not options.3 The bottom line is that police officers need to be mobile to do their job effectively, which usually means they need a smartphone with its advanced features that help provide efficient public safety communications.

In fact, modern 5G-enabled smartphones can exceed the capabilities offered by a typical in-vehicle computer thanks to a range of specialized apps designed for first responders. This includes features such as:

  • Seamless communication with land mobile radio (LMR) users
  • Language translation
  • Emergency alerting if an officer is in a foot chase or has been injured
  • Officer-specific geolocation
  • Access to real-time video surveillance
  • Access to records management systems and criminal justice databases
  • Access to reports and documentation of incidents (Camera/Photos)
  • Mobile computer-aided dispatch (CAD)
  • 911 integration
  • On-scene information collection and field-based reporting
  • First-aid guides

The BYOD advantages and disadvantages for public safety

For many organizations, BYOD is a good option when backed by a robust BYOD policy covering mobile security requirements such as acceptable use, encryption and password security. Public safety, and law enforcement in particular, is a unique case because devices are frequently used in potentially life-threatening situations where public safety communication is key. Also, because smartphones are used to both store and access highly sensitive data, they may be of great value to cybercriminals and organized crime gangs. Which is why security is perhaps the biggest BYOD concern for law enforcement agencies.

BYOD policy and security challenges

Beyond identity cloning where a cybercriminal could impersonate law enforcement, other cyberattacks could include ransomware which deploys malicious software to block access to computers or networks in return for money, network intrusions in which a bad actor gains unauthorized access to computers and networks and more.

Across all public safety agencies, 43% of first responders feel completely or somewhat unprepared for a cyberattack, according to Verizon’s Public Safety Communications Survey.5

When law enforcement uses any device that, including a smartphone whether it’s BYOD or a department-issued cell phone, accesses criminal data, they must follow the protocols set out by the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) compliance for mobile device security.  BYOD creates the possibility that an officer’s personal phone and any personal information stored in the device, could potentially be retained as evidence and therefore subject to discovery in court proceedings. This makes BYOD a challenge for law enforcement.

BYOD considerations

When it comes to a BYOD policy, public safety agencies should consider these BYOD advantages and disadvantages around security, technology control and productivity:4

Heightened security risks

BYOD policy security challenges include:

  • Exposure of personally identifiable information (PII) related to officers and personal contacts, especially if a BYOD device and its contents become evidence and subject to discovery in court proceedings
  • Non-compliance with CJIS security requirements, such as regular software/security updates, multi-factor authentication (MFA), encryption and agency-controlled mobile device management (MDM)
  • Risks associated with exposing confidential police communications or sensitive information on personal devices
  • Security risks of officers or family members visiting risky sites, downloading malicious apps, clicking on phishing links or using unsecured Wi-Fi

Limited technology control

A BYOD policy may limit the ability to effectively manage devices, such as:

  • Limited ability to keep devices updated with the latest technology, like 5G support
  • Limited management and control of devices owned by officers
  • Challenges over deciding where responsibility lies for securing devices against threats and remediating incidents

Reduced productivity

A BYOD policy may also impact public safety agencies' ability to effectively carry out their duties, for example:

  • Inability to use law enforcement applications for improved situational awareness and fieldwork
  • Challenges with the "discovery" of information relevant to a particular case, which may sit alongside personal information like photos and contacts
  • Officers may lose access to a personal device due to information on that device potentially being subpoenaed for information under case and Freedom of Information (FOIA) requests6

Why choose department-issued cell phones and smartphones for public safety?

Official department-issued cell phones and smartphones offer enhanced security and functionality for agencies and first responders.

Here are five benefits of using department-issued cell phones and smartphones for public safety:7

  1. Access to priority features guarantees better network connectivity and quality of service (QoS), even during natural disasters and major incidents
  2. Improved safety, reliability and efficiency
  3. Enhanced officer productivity and safety through a wide range of  department-approved applications designed to support their work in the field
  4. Secure communication of sensitive information compared to LMR use
  5. Privacy, security and other operational risk mitigation related to the routing of law enforcement calls to personal phones, and the provision of personal phone numbers to suspects, witnesses and victims

Access to priority features like wireless priority services (WPS)

Wireless Priority Service (WPS) provides voice priority for wireless public safety communications for authorized agency personnel that support critical infrastructure and emergency services during emergencies. WPS enables users to have reliable communications they need to fulfill their missions. WPS can be leveraged on department-issued cell phones and smartphones and by personal devices (BYOD). In both cases, the devices have to apply through DHS. An advantage of BYOD is that if you are a part-time, full-time or a volunteer first responder, you have the ability to use your personal device. The Verizon Frontline First Responder Benefits Program offers WPS at no additional cost to First Responders.

Verizon Frontline

The Verizon network was built right to support, recognize and prioritize first responders on the front line, ensuring that public safety communications receive priority. Verizon offers a comprehensive range of mobility services for public safety customers built on America's most reliable 5G network.8 Verizon also offers a discount program with exclusive offers only for our First Responders.

Learn why more than 35,000 agencies already rely on Verizon Frontline for its mission-critical solutions.

FAQs

Sometimes referred to as government phones, a department-issued cell phone or smartphone is a device that is provided and managed by the Public Safety Agency or Department.

Access to priority features, better network connectivity and quality of service (QoS), improved safety, reliability and efficiency to help provide near real-time mission critical data to first responders. 

Wireless priority services (WPS) is a Federal program that provides authorized cellular communications service providers to prioritize calls over wireless networks. Calls made with WPS overcome network congestion/degradation. Organizations can easily mass-subscribe select personnel via the bulk upload feature as WPS is an add-on feature to subscribed mobile devices at no cost. Verizon Frontline uses an intelligent platform that recognizes and prioritizes first responders. This feature is part of the Price Plan that Verizon offers to our customers on a department-issued cell phone or device.

Verizon offers a discount program to take advantage of exclusive offers for our First Responders. Verizon Frontline Benefits Program also offers WPS (a wireless voice priority service) and MBP (mobile broadband priority for data) at no additional cost to First Responders in a BYOD scenario. 

1 The Digital Decision, Why Government-Issued Smartphones for Law Enforcement, August, 2023, page 2.

2 Verizon Frontline, 2023 Public Safety Communications Survey, 2023, page 4.

3 Ibid, The Digital Decision, page 2.

4 Ibid, pages 3 & 4.

5 Ibid, Verizon Frontline, page 11.

6 Ibid, The Digital Decision, page 4.

7 Ibid.

8 Based on more first place rankings in RootMetrics® 5G data reliability assessments of 125 metro markets, 1H 2023. Experiences may vary. Not an endorsement.