To catch a thief means new wireless technology and other mobile computing.

Police work is tough. And the officers can be pretty tough on their equipment, especially the delicate computer and video systems that help them in their daily rounds. However, both the Cleveland Division of Police and the Manatee County, Fla., Sheriff’s Office find that wireless systems using “hardened” equipment speeds response and can hold up to the rigors of daily police work.

“Our deputies’ office is their car,” said Capt. Steve Litschauer of the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, whose 350 officers patrol 742 square miles, serving a population of 400,000 during the winter months. “Mobile computing solutions provide officers with quicker, better and more in-depth information than the radio can.”

Litschauer did several informal surveys of the time taken to process a radio call. On a busy weekend night, a voice call takes three to 15 minutes. With mobile data, the required response arrives in 15 to 30 seconds, he said. There are no outsiders with scanners eavesdropping on police data traffic.

“With a pen tablet and wireless infrastructure, the officer can run a check immediately and receive any pertinent information within seconds,” Litschauer said.

There is a sizable burden taken off the department’s radio network, too. Multiply the time taken for each radio call by thousands of calls—that pressures the system. But data downloads take just one-or-two seconds of airtime.

Manatee County uses a rugged, wireless, Microsoft Windows Tablet PC system from Xplore called the GeneSys II. The units work in the harsh outdoor environment and stand up to abuse like the heat and constant vibration of a patrol car.

Nabbing bad guys

Tablets have built-in wireless capability and docking stations. Hot keys allow programming in specific functions. Tablets can handle a four-foot drop to concrete. For use in hazardous environments, the All Terrain Tablet PC is UL-1604 Hazardous Material Certified and IP67 rated. The tablets also are tested to the MIL-STD-810F military standard.

Cleveland project

The Cleveland Police Division ordered 200 rugged Tablet PCs in Phase I of its five-year field automation project. The project was handled by Independence Communications.

Titus Britt, deputy commissioner for Cleveland’s Department of Public Safety, said they got a real-life example of the benefit of mobile computers in their first week in use.

“Cleveland police officers ran the license plate of a vehicle with a loud muffler only to find the driver was a suspect in a recent homicide,” Britt said. “Officers pulled the vehicle over and, after a short foot chase, apprehended the suspect involved with the homicide. A further check of the vehicle’s trunk revealed a homicide victim in the trunk.”

Detective John Mott, mobile data computer support manager for the Cleveland police, echoed Litschauer’s praise for the time-savings of wireless.

“With mobile computing, you can run checks on your own and get results in 10 seconds,” Mott continued. While priority calls always get handled quickly, Mott noted the snowball effect of less urgent calls being shunted aside.

In 1973, Cleveland was one of the first departments in the country to use mobile data terminals. The MDTs, or “green screens” as the officers called them, were removed in 1978 because they were cumbersome and hard to maintain. For 12 years, officers didn’t have computers in their vehicles. But, since Cleveland’s police department oversees a population of 478,000 and an area covering 77 square miles, so the 1,800 officers needed a significant technical upgrade.

“In speaking with other law enforcement agencies, it became clear that a tablet-style PC would provide a more durable and safe mobile computing system when compared to laptop alternatives,” Mott said.

Cleveland is also currently doing 90-day tests on two different video systems that could be added to the technology a beat officer could use.

The idea evolved when Mayor Jane Campbell, Safety Director James Draper, Assistant Safety Director Bruce Shade, and Police Chief Edward Lohn all focused on a common goal: improve officer safety and upgrade computer technology inside police vehicles.

In October 2002, Independence Communications installed 28 Xplore GeneSys Systems in police cruisers from the Fourth District as part of a six-month pilot program. During the pilot phase, officers evaluated the new system combined with the Cuyahoga Regional Information Systems (CRIS) Mobile Software.

The initial purchase of 203 systems put a unit in every frontline car in all six police districts. The next step is to outfit detectives’ cars. Detroit police are rolling out the same technology as the Cleveland.

Independence Communications installed MaximusPRO Tablet computers and law enforcement docking systems in addition to a magnetic stripe reader in the police cruisers. Using the CRIS Mobile Software, officers can run license plates and ID checks, perform wants/warrants checks, obtain photo images from the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles, initiate car-to-car communications and access local, state and federal Web sites from their vehicles.

With the increasing incidence of identity theft, officers must be able to validate the driver’s identity prior to completing any stop. Using Social Security numbers and/or driver’s license numbers, officers can access the CRIS system and validate identities by downloading photos and personal information.

The hardened computers have survived accidents, air-bag deployments and the harsh in-car environment. Remember, when it is 90 degrees outside, it can be 140 degrees in the trunk of a car.

The payoff

Mobile communications allow more efficient use of radios in emergency situations, increased arrests and traffic citations based on a higher level of database inquiries, and an overall increase in access to critical information for the field officers.

Police departments around the world recognize the value of the systems. According to Litschauer, Manatee County was the first public safety agency to use GE’s 800 MHz trunking system in 1987. Since then, law-enforcement agencies from around the United States and others in Finland, Denmark, Sweden, Saudi Arabia and Russia have come to look at their system.

“We are currently in the middle of a five-year replacement plan for our RF system. We will move to an IP Mobilenet system,” he said.

Both Litschauer and Mott agreed that any contractor doing a similar project should offer the department test products .

“We’ve gone from dumb terminals to Windows-based programs,” Litschauer said. “Evaluate multiple vendors ... we tried six vendors’ products. We made the RF people show us that their product would work with what we have.”

“Any vendor who wants to do business will let you demo their equipment in a pilot,” Mott agreed. “Get feedback from officers in other places. ”

Litschauer cautioned that a wireless system will not do everything that a desktop computer will do because of the mobile environment. However, he is especially pleased with the added information a mobile unit provides. A typical radio response might give a car’s make, model, year and owner’s name. An officer using a mobile will see all of that information plus vehicle weight, insurance data, license information and more. In a field where seconds count, wireless makes the officer’s job faster and therefore safer.