We began investigating devices to enhance the efficiency of mutual aid officers. In the GPS field, our first stop was with the Magellan CrossoverGPS.
GPS units that come standard with street maps in their databases are becoming more common. They have large, easily readable and colorful displays, and differ from the GPS units designed for outdoor topographic map use. Most of them do either one or the other, but not both.
Not only does the Magellan CrossoverGPS do outdoor, road map and marine navigation, it will render a 2D or 3D view of the map and transition between these perspectives seamlessly. This is advantageous if the operation quickly transitions from city borders to out in the boondocks. Almost shirt-pocket sized, it is capable of displaying the entire continent of North America in either topographical or road-map version.
The Magellan CrossoverGPS has the standard database contents, which includes restaurants, police stations, parks and points of interest (POIs) preloaded with software to add other locations. It delivers reliable turn-by-turn voice navigation. We attempted to fool this instrument by going from city to mountainous terrain but it easily led us to selected grid coordinates or an address.
These integrated POIs are great for mutual aid but they're best for extradition. Officers can plan their driving routes and zoom out a little to identify potential problems while picking restaurants and quickly locating police headquarters along the way.
One can load preposition waypoints into the Magellan CrossoverGPS using an SD card, probably one of the cheapest and most reliable methods of updating electronic devices. If the agency requesting mutual aid gives this unit to a team at a disaster that covers a significant geographical location, they can quickly provide updates by swapping SD cards. If the disaster is a flood, fire or earthquake, reliable landmarks might be destroyed or obscured. The officer equipped with GPS technology will prevail.
Even at cruiser speeds the Magellan CrossoverGPS gave good directions. It charged quickly and easily in the vehicle, had a fairly reliable antenna system and a display with a high resolution, making it easier to read on the fly.
However, GPS is not perfect. Even though the Magellan CrossoverGPS has terrific maps, we still recommend good old paper maps and compasses so people can communicate ideas by sketching and officers can check a compass for cardinal directions and routes of travel. Additionally, GPS works really well outside unless the user is in a canyon or under solid tree cover.
The Suunto Core has an integrated compass and watch. It features a chronograph, barometer, altimeter and compass in addition to the second most important feature for a deployed officer: an alarm.
For every situation, officers should carry a pencil, gum eraser (they can erase on maps without abrading the printing) grease pencils and Sharpies (for writing on plastic-covered maps).
Every officer contacted mentioned some difficulty with radio compatibility. Usually it was something along the lines of having to use a local agencies handheld in the patrol car. As radio waves become more crowded, the problem is compounded.
Most agencies have some sort of interoperability with allied agencies. As they get out of the area, they often have to resort to statewide frequencies or systems.
Newer radio systems have cloning capabilities, allowing technicians to change incoming officers' trunking frequencies and controller channel in their radios simply by plugging them into a PC. However, there are other compatibility issues that can also come into play.
Radio compatibility should be on the officer's mind when responding. Every officer we contacted had that issue on their checklist. A cheat sheet is recommended that gives the exact model name and features of their department radios. They should also have a frequency list from their agency. They can notify the receiving agency before even embarking.