Mobile data terminals can mean instant information at your fingertips. Miami-Dade PD has dramatically expanded the in-field capabilities of officers with its program. Photo Courtesy Miami-Dade PD
In Baltimore, Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealfeld has sought to get more police in the field and out of their cruisers. The solution: Mobile data devices that empower the beat officer with data traditionally limited to car-mounted laptops. Photo Courtesy Baltimore PD
FEATURED IN TECHNOLOGY AND COMMUNICATIONS
It’s no longer astounding that an officer in a patrol car has the ability to receive a dispatch call or access a subject’s arrest record via computer. For most officers, this is common practice these days.
But how about the thought of a detective fingerprinting a murder victim on scene and learning his identity instantaneously? Or an officer in Arkansas finding a missing person hours after an Oklahoma department posted the report—does it sound too good to be true? Cutting-edge departments are pressing the boundaries of what’s possible with mobile data systems.
Mobile data systems—secure wireless Internet connections between laptops or smartphones and an agency’s central databases—aren’t new anymore. The capabilities of these systems are increasing every day, as agencies around the country come up with new ideas for harnessing the power of data, and then sharing that data with other agencies.
Perhaps the most common use of mobile data systems is to allow officers in the field to instantly access information in their agency’s database. Sometimes they’re able to access the databases of other agencies, as well. Example: An officer pulls over a speeder and instantaneously views all available records on the subject from the department’s records database to find out if there are any warrants, previous arrests or stops, verify identification and more. Some systems will automatically dump the subject’s information into a new record, such as an accident report, thus saving time and effort.
The size and scope of available data in the field is growing. “The biggest advantage of our system is the incredible amount of data that an officer can receive out on the side of the road,” says Matt Jackson, Technology Services Department of the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office. “The capacity has gone from an officer being able to check data on eight to 10 stops per shift, to up to 200 vehicle or person look-ups, because the capacity to do the checks is practically limitless. They can also do more data dissemination.”
In agencies such as the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office, every officer using the mobile data system can see every other officer who’s currently on the system. Because all law enforcement agencies within Oklahoma use the same mobile data system, all on-duty officers in the state can track each other and send real-time messages (like instant messages) to each other, regardless of their location or department. This can tremendously speed up the search for a particular suspect or vehicle.
Having all data available to all patrol cars and even officers on foot in real-time can move some tasks into high gear—such as solving missing person reports and finding high-alert suspects. For example, Jackson says, “The shared data has helped us track down a sex offender within 24 hours. Before, we wouldn’t have had the means to find him so quickly.”
Data at Your Fingertips—Even on Foot
Mobile data systems are also available for smartphones, allowing officers the flexibility of accessing the same data without being stuck in or near a patrol car.
The Baltimore Police Department has equipped 600 beat officers with Blackberries connected to a mobile data system, and it plans to equip 2,000 more. “Our police commissioner has said he wants to get officers out of their vehicles and on the street,” explains Gayle Guilford, director of Mobile Information Services for the Baltimore Police Department.
The officers use their devices in the field to access such information as each day’s “priority warrants” and to verify subjects’ identities. It can also be used to access an individual’s records, including outstanding warrants and motor vehicle records—something they used to do by radio dispatch. Guilford estimates that switching to a mobile system saves each officer at least a half an hour per day retrieving data.
Data is retrieved in real-time from the department’s NCIC and motor vehicle records. “If an officer runs a check on someone, and it comes back with an open warrant, the system alerts not just the officer but the dispatcher and everyone else in the unit,” says Guilford. “Everyone can see right away that he’s got some potential trouble.”
Officers can also use their Blackberry’s camera and video camera to gather evidence on scene immediately, rather than waiting for forensics experts to arrive.
An added benefit for the department—and the officers—is a GPS application in each Blackberry that allows dispatchers and command officers to see where each officer is at all times and their availability to respond to a call. The agency plans to review this data to plan future deployments for large events, such as the Preakness horse race. The GPS also instantly pinpoints an officer in trouble: “As long as I can increase officers’ safety, I’m happy,” says Guilford. “Safety and access to information go hand in hand. If you don’t know who you’re dealing with, you’re in danger.”