When Computers Get Tough

Rugged computers for the law enforcement officer

One of its ruggedized displays stopped a bullet, says Scott Beisner, director of marketing for Data911 Mobile Computer Systems.

"The bullet came in through the front windshield," he recalls. "The officer had mounted the display on a pedestal, out of the airbag zone, and the bullet hit the back of the display, dropping into the officer's lap. And, the display was still functional. Although, I can't say every display will stop a bullet," he was quick to add.

One of the company's rugged systems was sole survivor of a collision which rendered the police vehicle and all equipment inside unsalvageable — except for the computer, which continued to run "flawlessly," says Anthony Visnjevic, marketing research analyst for AMREL.

The fact is, the law enforcement environment is no place for sissies, and that includes the equipment. Regular computers, be they laptops, mobile or fixed-mount, just won't cut it, says Visnjevic.

When it comes to selecting ruggedized computers, many of the same factors must be considered — such as ergonomics, space restrictions, placement (particularly in relationship to the airbag), design/type (handheld, laptop, fixed mount/component systems) processing speed, memory, wireless capabilities, available options, cost, job demands, etc.

In going ruggedized, agencies have an even greater opportunity to more closely tailor their equipment to their needs, particularly as these are affected by their environment — both work and weather.

It's not hard to make a case for the advantages ruggedized computer equipment confers.

"The biggest challenge to computer equipment as it relates to the law enforcement environment is just that — the environment," says Lt. Glen Athey with the El Paso County Sheriff's Office in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

"As with most any agency, the vehicles we operate are, at times, subject to extreme stress," says Athey. "This is not only hard on the vehicles, but everything in them. This is why (when selecting computer equipment) the ruggedized aspects were very important to me."

His biggest concern was overheating/air circulation due to crammed trunk space. The officers place their CPU in the trunk, along with other equipment, making the potential for overheating high, especially during the hot summer months. Vibration, thanks to a preponderance of dirt roads in its jurisdiction, adds to the chances of overheating as well.

In addition to temperature extremes, vibration also can wreak havoc on computer equipment, says Robin Timmer, P.O. II (top patrolman) with the Glastonbury Police Department in Connecticut. He says the non-rugged laptops the agency is currently using — but phasing out in favor of a ruggedized, three-piece modular system — have not been holding up well to the abuse inside the vehicle. The laptops are mounted in a generic mounting bracket between the front seats.

"We have an increasing problem with keys popping out of the keyboards, which then demands the entire keyboard must be replaced at an expense of $144," he says. The agency's new system mounts in a docking station, which features anti-vibration shock absorbers, and the computer itself also is designed to deal with vibration.

Add to the list of what negatively impacts computer equipment, such as shock, dropping, water, dust and humidity, and it's not hard to see why agencies might turn an affectionate eye toward ruggedized computers. These computers are specifically constructed to stand up to such abuses much more than commercially available or non-ruggedized systems.

The process of deciding on a ruggedized computer system is not that different from the process agencies should undertake when selecting non-ruggedized equipment. However, there are some added variables to consider.

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