Cart before the horse?

     It made the front page news in our small-town — population 11,000. The Wisconsin Department of Administration's Office of Justice Assistance has awarded the Fort Atkinson (Wisconsin) Police Department $61,400 to purchase mobile data computers for four of its squad cars. Right now, the department of 19 has none, and is the only law enforcement agency in Jefferson County without them.

     It seems crazy to me. In our town, you can reserve a book you're dying to read from your home PC. Yet, until now our officers lacked access to critical information from their squad cars.

     Even more surprising is the fact that the Fort Atkinson PD is not alone. Other 'have nots' also lack the funds to add this critical technology. One need not look any farther than the NLECTC Law Enforcement & Corrections Technology News Summary, a monthly publication that focuses on law enforcement and corrections technology in action, to see the truth in this. Nearly every issue tells of at least one department that recently added mobile computing capabilities to its fleet.

     The police chief in our town said "We're long overdue with this..." And he's absolutely right. These systems allow officers to communicate with dispatch and NCIC without radio transmissions. They improve the safety and efficiency of officers, who may now access critical information about the subjects they're dealing with before they walk up to their car or home. Furthermore, they improve homeland security by increasing the information sharing possible between agencies.

     There's a lot of talk about information sharing these days with plenty of emphasis being placed on having a national information sharing database for law enforcement. But are these initiatives putting the cart before the horse? How can we make information sharing nationwide when so many agencies still lack the basic technology that makes such partnerships possible?

     The fact is: The greatest information sharing system in the world is rendered useless if agencies cannot access it. And where's the justice in that?