Mobile moves

BMDTs and laptops: On the road to becoming standard issue in patrol vehicles

     Before the Internet, and before computers became front-seat accessories, many law enforcement officers turned their patrol cars into mobile offices. Along with night sticks, flashlights and an extra set of handcuffs, their vehicles held a citation book, incident and accident reports, field interviews, pens, pencils, erasers, rulers, a clipboard and some scratch paper to write down little snippets of information, from quickly glimpsed registrations to the names of the drug dealers standing on the corner on Saturday night.

     Back in those days, information was passed along in roll call or on the radio. Sensitive stuff was usually conveyed on a land line to keep it off the air. On busy shifts, officers would hustle from call to call, then limp into the station, find a vacant spot and bring their paperwork up-to-date before calling it a night — or day. But even on the busiest shift, most often they could be found sitting in a parking lot somewhere, pushing a pencil, trying to stay even with their reports so they could go home on time for a change.

That was then

     Although there are still departments lacking mobile data systems, paperless reporting has become an integral part of the police landscape. It's economical, environmentally sound and convenient. But most importantly, mobile data terminals and laptops offer agencies a chance to get ahead of the curve. Because information can be transmitted quickly and quietly, reports can be filed instantly, suspects can be identified and records accessed by the officer with the touch of a few keys, police can decrease time spent on adjunct bureaucratic duties and put their efforts to much better use. Plus, the ability to quickly put intelligence into wide and almost instantaneous play makes the streets safer, both for officers and the public.

     Are computer-sourced informational systems in patrol cars here to stay? Sure they are. And they are getting better every day, with new features added so fast that many departments find their systems outdated almost from installation, but that doesn't mean they aren't worth investing in. Just the opposite is true — those who don't have them, want them and those who do, say they are the future of modern law enforcement.

     Because, this is now. asks, you answer

     Mobile data terminals and/or computers are taking over and, although not all agencies have converted to computerized systems, a surprisingly high percentage have made the switch, and many more are beginning to feel the pull of this growing technology — according to officers in the field. (, the Web site owned and operated by the publisher of Law Enforcement Technology(LET), partnered with LET to produce an online poll to see where police agencies stand in regard to equipping their cars with MDTs and computers. The results shown in graphic on Page 58 clearly show that MDTs and laptops are becoming the standard, although some have still not made the jump.

     Of the 1,188 responses, 563 or 47 percent of the respondents said their agencies have laptops or mobile data terminals in their patrol vehicles and that the information systems are supported by both training and regulations. Another 12 percent (151 votes) said they also have MDTs and/or laptops, controlled by regulation only. Of the respondents who have MDTs and laptops, 3 percent, or 44 votes, say they have not been taught how to use the equipment.

     Another 14 votes (1 percent) say that only supervisors have MDTs/laptops, while 66 votes say "some of the cars have them" — which is 5 percent of the vote. Another 49 votes say less than 10 percent of the agency's patrol cars are equipped with either MDTs or laptops (4 percent) and a full 25 percent (301 votes) reflect agencies that do not have either laptops or MDTs in their patrol vehicles.

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