Black Marble develops Windows 10 UWP app to streamline and improve policing in the UK

The tuServ app is helping the Cambridgeshire Constabulary be more effective and efficient in their police work.

The Cambridgeshire Constabulary polices more than 1,300 square miles in southeastern England. Like other constabularies for nearly 200 years, it relied on a paper-based system to log and store key information, from officer reports to crime-scene photos to witness statements – a slow and inefficient way of working.

Police officers (or constables, as they’re known in the United Kingdom) out in the field often had to drive miles back to headquarters, and then spend two hours or more writing reports and filing documents on desktop computers. The information was also siloed; constables couldn’t easily share the information with their colleagues.

Faced with budget cuts, Simon Parr, then-chief constable of the Cambridgeshire Constabulary, wondered how he could help his officers spend less time filing paperwork and more time keeping the peace on the streets. Could technology help make the police force more effective? After all, a lot of the consumer tech he used at home was powerful and easy to use.

“I wanted the same flexibility, the same context, the same intuitive technology in the workspace that I had at home,” he said. 

“I wanted something that was easy to use, reliable and flexible and something that made more out of the smart technologies that existed.”

Better policing with the help of Windows

The Cambridgeshire Constabulary turned to Microsoft to help build an inventive new policing technology. And Microsoft partner and UK-based software developer Black Marble answered the call with tuServ, an intuitive, powerful and secure mobile Windows app.

First created on Windows 8, tuServ is now a Windows 10 app that leverages the Universal Windows Platform. 

Whether police officers are using a Windows phone, tablet or laptop – or, in the future, HoloLens – they can access important databases instantaneously, write reports, capture witness statements and even record a crime scene through photos and video. 

I could be at the scene of a crime and you could be literally anywhere in the world, and if you needed that information, you could read or see it immediately.
Simon Parr, consultant and former chief constable, Cambridgeshire Constabulary
Catching criminals with the UWP and Black Marble
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Catching criminals with the UWP and Black Marble

Uploaded by Windows Developer on 2017-05-24.

Such information is immediately synced through the app’s centralized, servers (either on premises or in the cloud) so command officers or colleagues back at headquarters can view and act on the information.

“The underlying principle of tuServ is to allow a copper to be a copper,” said Rik Hepworth, IT director for Black Marble.

Developing tuServ: A collaborative effort

Black Marble didn’t enter into the partnership with any preconceived notions. Instead, developing the Windows app was a collaborative process. Black Marble worked directly with the Cambridgeshire Constabulary, asking questions and gathering their feedback to develop a robust, bespoke app with a clear, intuitive user interface.

“They wanted to come on a journey with us,” Parr said.

First, Black Marble developed a digital “pocketbook,” or notebook, on the Windows platform in which officers can write text; draw pictures; gather video, audio and photos; and even capture e-signatures. All of this information is searchable and synced.

“That means I could be at the scene of a crime and you could be literally anywhere in the world, and if you needed that information, you could read or see it immediately,” Parr said. 

After further consultation, Black Marble added a collaborative workspace in the app – an “event dashboard” – that serves as the central repository for all information about a current incident or investigation. Officers can also add officers to the dashboard so they can gather and contribute more information.

Other features of tuServ include an interactive map that gives dynamic situational awareness to officers; they can set the radius of their location and can see current incidents in real time. The company also developed a “briefings” capability so officers can receive updates on ongoing incidents and investigations via the app.

Black Marble built the app with the help of Windows Azure Pack, which does the heavy work of connecting, crunching and delivering the data on the backend. The company also leveraged Visual Studio and .NET to use one set of code, one platform, across the system. In addition, Black Marble baked in security across the app domain with the help of BitLocker.

“tuServ is one of the most complex UWP apps out there,” said Hepworth. “We really, really push the envelope in terms of capabilities." 

You really can do complex powerful line-of-business apps on UWP.
Rik Hepworth, IT Director at Black Marble

After version 1.0 of tuServ rolled out in early 2015, the Cambridgeshire Constabulary gradually got rid of paper-based processes – saving an average of one and half hours per day, per officer, in administrative work. Due to its success, all evidence in Cambridgeshire’s court and criminal files must now be gathered via tuServ.

“[We’re] certainly the only place in the country that now does that,” Parr said. “TuServ has been proven in court that the evidence that’s gathered is good enough to prosecute people successfully.”

Windows 10, Universal Windows Platform, and HoloLens

Black Marble found the transition from developing on Windows 8 to Windows 10 fairly simple. In fact, they've moved a number of their key projects that began on the older platform to Windows 10 UWP with no difficulty.

“We don’t have to rebuild an app entirely to work on phone. We don’t have to rebuild it entirely to work on Surface Hub. We don’t have to build it entirely to work on HoloLens, which is fantastic,” Hepworth said. “And it’s going to be easier to go cross-platform using Xamarin because we’ve built using UWP and XAML.”

He added, “We’re great fans of Windows Mobile because we feel it’s a really nice platform to develop on. And it’s a really great platform from a security management point of view.”

Parr said the flexibility of Windows 10 makes him confident that tuServ can continue to improve.

“Whatever change comes in, we can make sure the product adapts with the software as opposed to saying, ‘We’ve got to completely re-code it because the source code of the operating system has changed.’”

Black Marble is now working with the Cambridgeshire Constabulary to integrate HoloLens into their work. While most HoloLens demos show the insertion of a real object into virtual space, Black Marble is doing the opposite: integrating real-life evidence, photos, video and documents with virtual reality.

“We want to take the real world and turn it into a virtual space,” said Hepworth.

The virtual reality headset and holographic computer could, for example, help train officers and allow detectives to examine crime scenes, even if they’re many miles away. A forensic specialist could don the HoloLens and see the exact same object in a crime scene as a senior officer 100 miles away, and walk around the scene to view it from different angles.

“The kind of collaborative scenarios that we can enable with HoloLens are totally different from those that we can do with a traditional device,” he said. “The immersion, the user experience is unlike anything I’ve ever used before.”

Parr agrees, adding that Hololens has huge potential in firearms and public-order training. “I think HoloLens in policing will, within five or 10 years, be a great partnership.”

In the meantime, more police forces within the UK are interested in using tuServ, and the Cambridgeshire Constabulary is doing a better job of protecting the county’s 900,000 residents.

“There is nothing out there like tuServ,” he said. “That’s the reason we keep [using] it.”