The patrol time machine

Deputies with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department will time travel this year.

No time circuits or flux capacitors are needed, though, just the help of a defense technology company that specializes in electronics and mission systems integration, Raytheon Co.

By 2013, the agency will fast-forward the technology aboard its vehicles 1980s-era nearly three decades to modern-day devices, to include Panasonic Toughbooks with Internet access and law enforcement-specific applications like the Sheriff’s intranet, mobile fingerprint identification, photos, and access to FBI records, warrants and background checks. The legacy system did not have GPS or digital maps, and had limited mobile data terminals with old, slow communications tech.

Take a look at the leap from the agency’s 25-year-old gadgets to the Raytheon-designed system, as well as the modern solution to info needs and space limits from two other forward-thinking companies.

Technologically dated, limited

Los Angeles County in California is about 4,000 square miles, which is larger than Rhode Island and Delaware together, and serves a population more than 5 times greater than the two smallest states combined.

Raytheon Co.’s Mobile Digital Computer System (MDCS) has been integrated into approximately 200 LASD vehicles, a transition for the agency’s fleet that began last fall. Laptop systems are scheduled to be installed in 2,400 of the department’s patrol cars, command post vehicles, prisoner transport buses, motorcycles and patrol boats to upgrade LASD’s ’80s-era tech.

The new mobile digital computer system will bring myriad advances to the field officer, such as allowing users to see 100 of the most recent dispatches; the old system only allowed deputies a view of the last six and required a manual clear by the officer to receive new alerts.

The LASD froze its mobile abilities for 25 years by maintaining the original MDTs, officers receiving data at the same speed a fax machine would, for example. The upgrade will bring deputies mobile communications data at about the same speed that cell users receive 3G calls and texts.

Deputy Sheriff Jim Walton has a background in computers and 20 years on patrol, which is why when the department wanted to update its technology, it recruited him to initiate the search for something to replace the old.

“The system we’re replacing is as technologically dated as a pager,” Walton says. “It used to be that [returns] would take a minute. Now with the new system it takes like 8 seconds.” Other advances include officers’ ability to search databases from the field, where before they would need to wait for someone at dispatch to search and return information. Precious seconds can turn into trouble for the officer on the street.

Raytheon’s program manager for the LASD MDC program, Gregory Costa, says the plan in place is a 21-month roll out, which puts the quota for turnover of the old-tech-outfitted cars into the new Raytheon designed set up at about 100-125 cars a month. At that rate, the 2,400 special vehicle fleet at LASD could be finished around September 2013. As the updated vehicles roll out, Costa says officers will see returns in their overall work with a trim in the time spent in-office, and utility of access to databases such as Coplink, allowing deputies on patrol to resolve a lot more at the vehicle.

“The new system is taking the desktop computer and word processing, e-mail, Internet, access to LE-specific apps and capabilities and putting it in the mobile office,” Costa explains. “When they’re on the road, they can stay on the road and there’s a lot of benefit to that.”

Resistant to change

But change this drastic and on this scale comes with its resistance. Deputies who had been trained and in service with the old system didn’t initially want to be required to rework their daily processes and sit through tech training for an entirely new system. That is, Walton says, until they got in their car that was outfitted with the Raytheon-designed system. “After they use it, once the become used to it … they’re happy to have all of this information [accessible] and to see how it can save them time.” Small things, like getting familiar with a new version of Windows software versus what the officer had been used to at home were minor hassles. But the chance to revamp an old, largely paper-based system, which required deputies to haul heavy, cumbersome bags full of extra forms and codes or reference sheets (such as for counterfeit money calls), showed officers dividends quickly.

During the current rollover, Costa says they have already seen deputies “go from not wanting it to anticipating [the upgrade].” He adds that the department is doing the changeover bit by bit (at about 100 to 125 a month of the 2,400 total to be converted) because each computer system must be made electronically unique (for high-tech features to work properly such as GPS mapping and tracking) and time is taken to work out any hiccups.

‘Ultimate patrol vehicle’ model

Motorola also offers a next-gen configuration for patrol units. The Motorola “ultimate patrol vehicle” model utilizes the Chevy Caprice with a PTT button in the steering wheel, eight cameras, plus an integrated console controlling lights, sirens, PA, gun lock and radio. Motorola’s digital in-car video system, the MVX1000, the MDT in-vehicle computer (MW810 Mobile Workstation), mobile CAD, VML700 modem and APX 7500 Multi-band Mobile Radio make up the tech center of the system.

The cop’s ‘cockpit’

Rockwell Collins, probably known best for its established place in the aerospace industry, entered the law enforcement market in 2010 with the announcement of its integrated public safety vehicle solution, the iForce, made to do for the law enforcement patrol vehicle what the company did for the pilot’s cockpit. Integrating radio, electronics and computer functions into a single system, the iForce provides for an officer’s on-scene needs for communication, control and security while enhancing situational awareness. The design leverages the company’s expertise in providing ruggedized, highly reliable integrated electronics and communications solutions for military vehicles and aircraft. (Watch video of a ride-along with the iForce system

Into the future

You don’t need a flashy sports car with gull-wing doors to fly into the future.

For an agency serving the most populous county in the United States, after 20-some years of an aging system, the time for a new unit to serve in-field info needs is here. And with any new tool implementation comes a large cost and a large risk if anything should go awry. The Raytheon and LASD mobile office project currently underway is planned to finish next year and is a big investment for the agency. However, one that has come from many years of biding time to seek technologies that would not just make a slight improvement for an aspect of patrol, but send the entire vehicle fleet and its designated operators eons into the future.