Not just for driving anymore

     A patrol car isn't simply a way to get you to your calls anymore: it's also an office, a base of operations and the place you stash not only the equipment you need, but the information you rely upon to do your job. And the character of that "office" has changed a lot over the past few decades.

     Early patrol cars were less about efficiency and more about transportation. As time passed and law enforcement policed areas that were more spread out, the need for self-contained technology also grew. From cruisers equipped with radios, lights, sirens and a shotgun rack, to the sophisticated mobile information systems available today, law enforcement has stepped into a future that seems straight out of a Michael Crichton novel - only without the rampaging T-Rexes. But because the journey's been rapid doesn't mean it's been simple or bereft of trial and effort.

     Police cars were not originally designed to accommodate rolling information centers. As technology progressed and departments began adding Mobile Data Terminals to their units, they discovered many cars were ill equipped to handle the additions. Bulky systems were wired into existing systems - anyone who policed back then might remember the masses of cables and wires, and the continuous glitches that came out of those early efforts.

     But officers were thrilled with the capabilities these systems promised. MDTs gradually allowed them to access and disseminate information, file reports, pull up mug shots, get directions, communicate more effectively and keep tabs on criminal activity with an ease only anticipated in futuristic police movies. Who knew technologies like bio recognition were literally around the corner? But it was, and is, and every day brings with it new and astonishing gains.

     Law Enforcement Technology took a look at some of the new technology available for patrol units - both established and brand new - and gathered information on those we think might interest departments both large and small. Take a look and see what might be part of your agency's future policing menu.

1. See what you're getting into

Firetide HotPort wireless mesh nodes; Firetide Mobility Controller

     HotPort 6000 mesh nodes provide flexible multi-radio Ethernet backhaul. Firetide mesh networks are a wireless solution for real-time fixed and mobile high-bandwidth data communications, VoIP and real-time video. All HotPort nodes can operate with the HotView Controller software for high-speed infrastructure mobility, enabling reliable connectivity for Wi-Fi access on public transportation or video surveillance from moving police vehicles. This is a new approach to transmitting high-bandwidth video to patrol cars; it enhances present capability of narrow-band communications via cellular technology. Mesh delivers up to 35 Mbps throughput in sustained mode (over multiple hops), versus 1-2 Mbps over cellular data networks.

Where deployed: MBTA (Boston) Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority: The wireless mesh network enables transmission of live video feeds to laptops in MBTA police officers' networked vehicles, allowing first responders to view an onboard incident as it unfolds. Consequently, responders can plan and execute tactics faster and smarter - enhancing the safety and security of on-scene personnel. Other possible applications: Airport police, campus police.

Cost: Mesh nodes: range is $1,295 to $2,995 depending on configuration (indoor/outdoor) and number of radios (one or two) HotView network management software - 30 node license is $2,995; 10 node license is $1,295.

2. Find that gunfire source

ShotSpotter GLS

     The ShotSpotter GLS is based on wide-area acoustic surveillance comprised of three components - a network of acoustic sensors, the ShotSpotter Location Server and the ShotSpotter Public Safety Console (PSC) display software and user interface. When a gunshot or explosion occurs within a ShotSpotter GLS sensor network it detects, locates, identifies and classifies the sound in seconds. The ShotSpotter GLS then relays vital audio and visual incident information to the ShotSpotter PSC within seconds. As the user interface of the ShotSpotter GLS, the PSC marks the incident's location by placing a dot onto a scalable map image. It then plots the location of each shot, revealing direction of travel. Event audio is also available for playback. This allows users to determine event activity, including the number of shooters involved and rounds fired. The ShotSpotter Mobile Public Safety Console (PSC-Mobile) is the mobile user interface of the ShotSpotter Gunshot Location System (GLS).

Where deployed: Oakland has the largest deployment and has been using the PSC-M the longest. Other cities deploying PSC-Mobile: Boston, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and St. Louis.

Cost: ShotSpotter sells its GLS in combination with professional services for deployment, configuration and end-user training. Customers can purchase PSC-Mobile with their initial purchase or as an add-on. Price is variable and determined by the customer's coverage area and number of PSC and PSC-Mobile.

3. Technology at hand

SoMo 650 (Handheld computer)
Cordless Hand Scanner (CHS) Series 7

     The SoMo 650 handheld device operates like a large-display PDA. Running either Microsoft Windows Mobile 5.0 or 6.0 Classic operating system, it provides a platform that allows flexible application compatibility within a familiar computing environment. It can be paired with a variety of peripheral devices, including barcode and RFID scanners, card scanners and flash cards for increased functionality. One of the key peripherals paired with the SoMo 650 is the Cordless Hand Scanner (CHS) Series 7. The CHS has a built-in Bluetooth wireless connection that easily pairs with the SoMo 650 for additional data gathering. The durable CHS also includes Error Proof Protocol to ensure reliable communication over the Bluetooth link.

Where deployed: Most recently, the Socket SoMo 650 was deployed by German police for tracking vehicle speed on the autobahn, and the Cordless Hand Scanner (CHS) Series 7 was deployed by Bender Enterprises for scanning VIN numbers to identify stolen vehicles.

Cost: SoMo 650: $695, CHS Series 7: $563.

4. Tell them to turn it down

HD600 Heavy Duty Datalogging
Sound Level Meter

     The HD600 accurately measures and logs ambient and directional sound levels, and is used to investigate complaints of noise ordinance violations at nightclubs, private residences, construction sites, automobile events, etc. Designed to be used virtually anywhere, the HD600 provides instantaneous sound level readings on a large, easy-to-read display. Additionally, datalogging capabilities permit patrol officers to record extended periods of time for documentation or analysis, or archive readings via USB to a PC. Extech offers NIST-certificate calibration with new HD600s, and re-calibration as needed.

Where deployed: Sold through third-party distributors; information not available.

Cost: Suggested retail is $499.99.

5. From phone to mobile PC

REDFLY Mobile Companion

     The REDFLY Mobile Companion from Celio Corp. is a smartphone terminal with a large screen and full keyboard that lets officers use their Windows Mobile-compatible smartphones as if they were full-blown PCs. The REDFLY has no OS, CPU or storage of its own - everything still runs on the smartphone itself. A driver on the smartphone changed the output screen resolution to 800 by 480 pixels, giving the user more screen "real estate" on the 8-inch display. REDFLY links to the smartphone via a USB cable or wireless Bluetooth connection. Users can comfortably e-mail, read attachments, view Web sites, and use applications on their smartphones for greater productivity.

Where deployed: The Memphis Police Department, which purchased 1,200 units.

Cost: $199 after rebate for the REDFLY C7, and $299 for the RDFLY C8N.

6. Build your own information system

WebFOCUS Magnify

     The Erlanger (Kentucky) Police Department created an operational business intelligence system with integrated search capabilities and links to local law enforcement applications. The new info system combines current crime data from 19 government agencies to link formerly unrelated information about suspects, incidents, arrests and crimes. It also provides forces with a real-time view of incidents, arrests, 911 calls and other events throughout the dispatch area.

     At the heart of this new information system is a software platform from Information Builders called WebFOCUS Magnify. Magnify combines BI and search technology that lets officers locate and share data from within their vehicles. The software generates real-time search results to police officers in the field, in conjunction with key performance indicators (KPIs) for supervisors at headquarters. Officers connect to the system through cellular-powered displays in their cars. Entering a brief search string returns header information followed by narrative.

     Drilling down, officers can obtain reports that list all the pertinent information about each incident. For example, if an officer stops a speeding car and performs a quick search of the license plate number, the software could display a police report from earlier in the day in a neighboring city involving a hit-and-run incident, even if the witness at the scene got only part of the license plate number. In this way, a suspect in two crimes could be apprehended through a small piece of shared data.

     During a recent string of Erlanger-area burglaries everything from wrought-iron gates to sewer covers disappeared. Because the crimes were so widespread, individual police departments didn't notice a pattern until some of the stolen goods turned up at a recycling center, which informed all the jurisdictions. Today, if that same situation were to occur, as soon as an officer entered a keyword such as "metal" or "iron" into the Magnify search index, all related incidents would be linked in a one-page report.

Where deployed: Erlanger (5 minutes from Cincinnati).

Cost: Contact company.

7. Secure your laptop

Columbitech Mobile VPN

     The Columbitech Mobile VPN features FIPS 140-2, strong encryption and multi-factor authentication. It provides police laptops and mobile computers with a secure and persistent connection to applications and central databases on the internal network. It also significantly reduces the amount of paperwork, and allows for quick access to mission-critical data from the field. The mobile VPN is application transparent and can protect any application without software changes. Thus departments can increase revenue via faster ticketing and less time spent per incident. With an improved response time, officers can focus on protecting civilians and reducing crimes rather than filling out paperwork. Some agencies have replaced old radio-based systems with much faster 3G cards for their laptops.

Where deployed: Saukville (Wisconsin) Police, Allen County (Ohio) Police, as well as several international police departments (e.g., Sweden and New Zealand). Plus, all branches of the U.S. military: Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines. NASA, SPAWAR, the National Guard and NEXCOM also employ Columbitech.

Cost: Contact company for details.

On the technological horizon

     The sky's the limit when it comes to technological advances, particularly mobile ones. Technology that once seemed impossible is now not only up and running, but getting smaller, more mobile and more varied as the industry meets developing needs.

     Another side benefit to the continued development of cutting edge technology: The costs are coming down. Cash-strapped agencies can look forward to price breaks in connection with some of the latest technology - look at the $199 cost with rebate for the REDFLY 7. With bargains like these becoming increasingly available, tomorrow's technology is affordable today.

     A 12-year veteran of police work, Carole Moore welcomes comments at