This is NYPD's official crime-fighting phone

It's the largest police force in the US, and officers didn't get a department-issued phone with their own email and number until last year.

Sarah Tew/CNET
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Across New York City, more cops are staring at their phones.

On a single day last week, 5,500 NYPD officers logged in and clicked on 39,000 notifications.

They're not distracted from work, though. Those notifications were 911 calls.

Inspector Anthony Tasso, the commanding officer of the NYPD's Strategic Technology division, logs into his phone using his police ID.

Sarah Tew/CNET

That's right, the New York Police Department has finally -- finally! -- caught up with the modern age and equipped its officers with smartphones, nearly a decade after the first iPhone came out. The department began handing out it first smartphones to the city's 36,000 police officers in April 2015 and finished equipping the entire force earlier this year. Now new officers at the New York City Police Academy in College Point, Queens, get phones along with their guns and badges.

Just as the advent of smarter phones brought improvements to regular folks' daily lives, these handsets have likewise made it easier for the city's finest to fight crime. Officers are able to respond to 911 calls faster, solve crimes more efficiently and create stronger ties to their community, according to NYPD.

So what are the phones of choice for the men and women entrusted to guard the safety of the 8.4 million residents of New York?

The Lumia 830 and Lumia 640 XL.

You read that right. Life and death situations rely on outdated phones running Microsoft's Windows Phone software.

You may knock the unpopular Windows Phone platform, which commands less than 1 percent of the phone market, but the NYPD believes Microsoft was the most appropriate way to go.

The department looked at Apple's iOS and Google's Android, but picked Windows Phone for its security features and the ability to remotely manage the thousands of devices in the hands of officers.

Solving crimes

The NYPD has already seen tangible benefits of using the phones. In one case, a fare-beating passenger who ran out of a taxi likely would have gotten away if the responding officers didn't have their phones on them.

"We probably would have taken a report, and it probably would've never had any further investigation," said Inspector Anthony Tasso, the commanding officer of the NYPD's Strategic Technology division.

Instead, officers were able to use the database on their phones to figure out that the thief was hiding in his girlfriend's apartment building right next to where he had run off in Rockaway, Queens.

The thief had used the driver's phone to call his girlfriend before fleeing. Officers ran a search through the NYPD's system with the phone number and found her address through a criminal record.

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The NYPD uses Microsoft's Lumia 640 XL and 830 for its official phone.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Before the phones were rolled out, an officer would have had to run the phone numbers through a database from a computer, rather than just a few taps on a phone.

Strengthening community ties

Among the apps and high-tech additions, the phone's most basic function -- calling -- is what has helped community relations the most.

Before the phones were issued, officers didn't have a work email or phone number they could give out to people who needed their help in follow-up incidents.

At the time, it was against NYPD policy to give out personal contact information. Victims who wanted to reach the officers who took their report would have to call the precinct and leave a message, sometimes to voice mailboxes shared by entire squads.

"It was much more difficult," said Jessica Tisch, the department's deputy commissioner for information technology. "It really made our officers less accessible to the public."

In a case on Staten Island, Tasso recalled officers giving out their phone numbers to a teen following a robbery, in case he saw the thieves again. The next night, the boy did. After he dialed 911, he called the officers on their phones.

Those officers arrived first and were able to catch the thieves on the spot.

"It's gone a long way, not only for the officers to be more effective, but also to build community trust," Tasso said.

The NYPD's phones come with custom apps to help fight crime.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The introduction of the phones has had issues, of course. When the phones were first introduced, older officers were skeptical, and some even worried they were being tracked with the devices.

The daily wear and tear of police work has been tough as well, leading to damaged and broken devices. And a handful of the phones are lost every week.

The NYPD is testing new devices and plans to upgrade to a Windows 10 phone by next summer. Along with security, the department considers battery life and processor speed important features.

The next phone will need to be able to handle the department's vision for new apps, like a connection to the city's array of security cameras or two-way digital dispatch.

"We've spent the past year and a half building out a platform, getting the data in order, and giving out the devices," Tisch said. "Now that we have that platform, and it's 36,000 officers strong, we plan to continue to build on it."

Here are the apps that the NYPD and Microsoft helped develop for officers:

911: Officers are able to get 911 calls directly, without waiting for dispatchers to read the report. It's cut response times for crimes in progress by 12 percent from 2015.

Search: The app allows officers to comb through names, police records, license plates, warrants and any other details stored within its police database. "I call it the Google of NYPD data," Tisch said.

Crime Information Center: This is a bulletin board with wanted fliers, missing persons and safety alerts. When police first started using the phones, Tasso said, a series of burglaries broke out near the 100th Precinct in Queens. The suspects were caught after the precinct commander used the app to tell officers in the area to look for a white van.

Messaging: Police send messages based on their assignments, rankings, precinct or location. The sender can set the messages to go out to a specific, geo-fenced location. The NYPD has used this for events like the Thanksgiving Parade and in emergencies like the Chelsea bombing near 23rd Street in September.

DD5: Otherwise known as the Case Management System, it's a digital notepad that detectives use for complaint follow-ups. The name comes from old slang for "document detectives file."

Forms: Officers use this app to fill out paperwork, filing accident reports, domestic violence reports and aiding reports. It's the first step in the NYPD's move to go paperless.

NYPD U: Cops can watch training videos, look at slideshows and take quizzes straight from their phones to stay up to date on the department's latest policies. In the past, officers would need to travel to the police academy in Queens for the training.

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