Mobile moves

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

     With 75 percent of respondents to this survey showing evidence of some type of computerized mobile data system in their patrol vehicles, it is obvious that the move to paperless information has taken law enforcement — if not by storm — then in a steady wave. Like many other standards that have evolved in criminal justice applications, MDTs and laptops will soon be necessary in order to properly conduct police business.

     Another important aspect to computerizing information in field situations is the ability between responding agencies in emergency situations to communicate in more ways than simply though the radio. They also must be equipped to send and receive photographs, maps and other images, retrieve and share intelligence and access other information in a secure, but user-friendly format. When a large-scale emergency takes place, agencies without these abilities will find themselves incapable of responding with the same degree of efficiency as agencies that are already equipping patrol with up-to-date technology.

     But most agency heads aren't standing in the way of progress — they understand that outfitting their patrol units with the latest technological advances makes their department more efficient and better serves the public. Instead, shrinking budgets and high costs are usually the culprits for keeping law enforcement from entering the enlightened age of portable, cyber-based knowledge.

Topeka -- A case study

     Just as there are "different strokes for different folks," different agencies have different needs when it comes to mobile data systems. LET asked the Topeka (Kansas) Police Department to answer a few questions about its use of these devices. Here is what Lt. Phil Morrell of Support Services had to say about the agency, which has an authorized complement of 290 sworn officers and 40 to 50 non-sworn personnel:

     LET: What type of mobile data system does Topeka use and when was it implemented?

     Morrell: We began using mobile data terminals in 2000-2001. Initially, we started with the Motorola MW-520. We are now moving into the Panasonic CF-19 to replace the Motorola. It allows us to use a broadband service which is faster than the RF (radio frequency) network that we had to use with the Motorolas.

     LET: Do all your field units use them or are they confined to certain cars/divisions/ranks?

     Morrell: We have licensing for 100 units. This allows for all of our territory cars with the territory supervisors, and cars used for traffic and hit-and-run investigations. When we are finished with the current rollout of new computers it will also include some of our street commanders.

     LET: What are the general capabilities? Field reporting? Mobile dispatch? GIS? Could you talk about how your MDS works?

     Morrell: We do have mobile dispatch and CAD connection. There is also a messaging feature between units and dispatch. We are able to check tags and people for warrants directly through the computer. Supervisors also have the ability to check the status of units, the calls they are on and the locations. We are nearly to a place where we will be able to start using field reporting. We have had to wait for certain upgrades, but we are almost ready to turn on that feature. It will also have supervisor review capabilities. Our MDS is connected with the county and our communications center is part of the county. This makes us partners on all of our records management systems. We have to work closely due to that fact.

     LET: What has been the learning curve for officers?

     Morrell: Most of our officers are pretty comfortable with the equipment now. In the beginning … there were some training issues and that was due to a couple of things:

  1. Older officers were not as computer adept as younger ones, and
  2. The equipment was new and, as with any new equipment, it takes some getting used to before you see proficiency. Now that we are into the newer computers we have more 'younger' officers and the older officers have caught on to the use of the computer.

     LET: How do they like it?

     Morrell: The officers like to use the computer very much. They use it for a variety of tasks that they used to have to wait for dispatch to accomplish for them and then radio the information. We are also getting new cars now and there are situations occasionally where an officer's new car is ready for him to use except for getting it to IT for the computer, and they will choose to drive the old, beat up car so they can have access to a computer. This shows us how important the computer has become to them.

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