Mobile data in action

      Arizona's Tempe Police Department recently deployed a mobile communications solution to provide officers in the field with access to the latest crime fighting tools and information.

   The mobile hotspot technology enables Tempe officers to spend less time in the station and more time in the community, protecting the public. In the future, it has the potential to transform the way law enforcement agencies across the nation manage operations and fight crime.

Pre-existing problems

   Before implementing the technology, the TPD relied on an analog radio network for all its communications. Although this provided reliable voice communications, it severely limited the police force's mobile data capabilities.

   To obtain information about vehicles or suspects, officers in the field needed to radio a dispatcher and wait for a response — a time-consuming, inefficient and labor intensive process. Officers could communicate with one another using a basic, analog text function on laptops, but were discouraged from doing so because it tied up network capacity and cluttered the screens of all officers on duty.

   Tempe began searching for a mobile communications solution that would enable them to provide officers with greater access to information in the field, and deploy dispatch, electronic ticketing, license plate recognition and other systems in its fleet. It was also looking for a solution that offered the flexibility to allow the department to communicate using a variety of wireless networks, including commercial 3G, station-based Wi-Fi and, when available, the city-wide municipal wireless network.

   At first, Tempe performed a trial with a "mobile VPN" product running on laptops. However, this solution performed poorly during the trial and failed to meet the city's standards.

   Tempe's search for a new communications solution, spearheaded by Dave Heck, deputy CIO for the city, led them to In Motion Technology, a Vancouver, British Columbia-based company specializing in mobile networking technology for mission critical organizations.

   Tempe initiated the trial by equipping four patrol cars with the mobile Wi-Fi technology. Results were evident right away. Officers in the field were able to file reports, send e-mails and access data with the ease and simplicity as if they were in the station. Officers had the flexibility to remove their laptops from the vehicle and stay connected. And because this technology requires little or no user intervention, officers were free to focus on their mission — and not their communications equipment.

   "Our officers were very enthusiastic," Heck says. "Effective policing is all about presence. After a week of trials, it was clear this technology could to transform our communications and operations, and allow our officers to do the work they used to do in the office from their vehicles."

   Tempe deployed the same technology throughout its police fleet. "We had Gateways up and running in 180 vehicles in less than three weeks without any problems," Heck says.

   Tempe officers now have instantaneous access to information about suspects, vehicles and property. Using Panasonic Toughbooks and other devices in and around patrol vehicles, officers can download mug shots, view databases of "most wanted" criminals, and access other crime fighting resources. This level of knowledge helps enables officers to make better decisions based on real-time information from their vehicles.

   Officers file reports and perform other administrative tasks from their vehicles without returning to the station. This has significantly increased officer presence in the community.

   "Today our officers are able to spend less time behind a desk and more time in the community, protecting the public," says Hugh Hallman, mayor of the City of Tempe.

   "Our officers appreciate the quick access to information that they could previously only get at their offices, and are anxious for us to give them more applications that can further extend the office to their vehicles."

Improving efficiency and reducing cost

   As law enforcement agencies across the nation are called on to do more with less, this latest generation of wireless technology also offers new tools to manage operations and reduce costs.

   Software such as In Motion's onBoard Mobility Manager can continuously collect and analyze information from appropriately equipped vehicles to provide dispatchers, IT staff and fleet managers with a dashboard of information about vehicles, networks and devices, and a suite of management tools.

   For example, a telemetry module lets fleet managers monitor and receive alerts triggered by pre-set thresholds for gas mileage, operating hours, engine temperature, fuel and coolant levels, idle times, speed and other functions. This allows departments to effectively schedule maintenance, reduce breakdowns and save money by monitoring and improving vehicle and driver efficiency.

   Other features allow IT staff to remotely and securely "reach through," troubleshoot and upgrade connected communications devices without taking vehicles or personnel off the road. And the coverage and performance reporting functionality allows departments to monitor the mobile network and analyze cellular coverage to achieve the most reliable wireless communications.

   Such mobile data software can create a single, end-to-end mobile communications and management system that can improve the efficiency and effectiveness of police departments and usher in the next generation of crime fighting tools.

   With mobile data implemented, vehicles can work together to create a wide area network and allow first responders to connect, communicate, coordinate and overcome many of the challenges faced at large-scale incident scenes like Hurricane Katrina and 9/11.

   Michael Rubin writes on mobile wireless issues for In Motion Technology. He can be contacted at