Creating the mobile office

Michigan departments take technology on the road

     "One area that was especially critical was the ability for an officer to use voice response instead of standard keying on his laptop while in his vehicle," says Jeff Rubenstein, APS CEO and a former Del Rey, Florida, police officer. "With voice response technology, the officer can run a series of license plates and identification records on his laptop while he is driving. The system verbalizes the records and the officer in turn can instruct the system verbally which records to focus on."

     APS also provides Pocket Citation, which improves ticketing times, officer safety and ticketing accuracy for agencies.

     "Pocket Citation works especially well on a handheld device, so it can used on foot, on horseback, or anywhere you want to use a cell phone," Rubenstein notes. "The application reduces work because it instantly accesses information about a violator that an officer would normally have to hand-write on the citation. The officer can make one query on a person or vehicle license, and the citation can be populated with the data that comes back from the query." Traditional ticket handwriting takes as long as 15 minutes, but the Pocket Citation automates the process into a 60-second timeframe. The data collection automation also reduces the officer's exposure to the violator.

     Just as important for agencies and their jurisdictions is the legibility of automatically generated tickets. In the past, as much as 20 to 30 percent of all handwritten citations were thrown away because the handwriting on them was illegible. Part of the complication involved officers having to look up statutes, and then record the statutes that had been violated on the citations. "Now all the officer has to do is pick a 'ran red light' option on his handheld device and the ticket is automatically filled in with the appropriate statute," says Rubenstein.

     Greater data access and mobile communications also enable law enforcement officers to tie into information repositories beyond those typically available at the national, state and local levels of law enforcement. Data providers such as LocatePLUS of Beverly, Massachusetts, serve more than 16,000 clients throughout the United States and aggregate public records from 10 to 15 discrete databases, including records from collection systems, court systems and insurance companies. The LocatePLUS data engines can search by name, Social Security Number, phone or cell phone number, vehicle or corporation. It has the flexibility to return results for searches on partial license plates -- or to locate relatives and neighbors for requested individuals. "Our goal is to deploy in-depth information to any device," says Laura Stanicek, channel relationship manager at LocatePLUS.

Future mobility directions
     Regardless of the application, mobile technology providers are taking a hard look at law enforcement field needs to ensure that mobile technology is optimally tailored for day-to-day field conditions. Here is what law enforcers embracing mobile technology can look for in the future.

     High usability: "The usability that we build into our products is actually defined by law enforcement officers," says Rodney Ford, vice president of sales at Core Technology. "We communicate with law enforcement agencies monthly and actually reissue product just as frequently. In this way, the process improvement of the product is continuous, and law enforcement can rapidly gain access to the latest features through monthly Web distribution of the software, which automatically downloads into the client machines connected to the network -- whether they are fixed or mobile."

     Ford explains that when a law enforcement officer uses a handheld device such as a Blackberry, the officer uses a scrolling mechanism. "Because we know that scrolling is so much a part of the Blackberry, the menus on our Blackberry software interface are also scrollable," he says. "On the other hand, in a car, the software interface has bigger buttons, fonts and thumbnails with pictures to facilitate ease of use. There are also not a lot of folders on the car-based rugged laptops, since a field officer would not use folders often."

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