By Scott Harris, Freelance Writer
|Note: Police Chief magazine, from time-to-time, offers feature-length articles on products and services that are useful to law enforcement administrators. This article features mobile computers.|
obile computers can be much more these days than simply a screen on the squad car dashboard. In an era of downsizing, mobile computing tools help law enforcement and public safety officers, their managers, and their agencies make better, more efficient use of their most important resource: their officers.
More advanced and portable devices and more sophisticated technologies on both the front and back ends are transforming mobile computers into a digital extension of the police station or substation. Put another way, from parking tickets to arrest warrants, mobile computers these days, like the officers who use them, are multitaskers.
“We’ve come a long way from ‘onesize-fits-all’ computers that force officers to settle for devices that don’t meet all their needs,” said Scott French, vice president of public sector sales for Panasonic System Communications.1 “Police departments are realizing that they don’t have to make compromises. They can have computers with the same degree of ruggedness and security they depend on, and just as flexible and user-friendly as the technology they use at home.”
Not long ago, you would need a lot more than a smartphone to handle the computing bulk needed to run something as complex as fingerprinting equipment and databases. MorphoTrak Incorporated makes the technology available in a single handheld device. The MorphoIDent device and MorphoTrak’s Integrated Biometric Identification System (IBIS)—a piece of hardware that can be added to existing devices to give them fingerprint capture capabilities—are both biometric centers literally housed in the palm of one’s hand. The devices are able to scan fingerprints in the field and transmit them back to MorphoTrak’s Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) for analysis. Results are then returned in as little as five seconds (depending on the speed of the connection being used).
“It’s more than just a single modality. It’s fingerprint identification, but it can also be facial identification and iris identification,” said Robert Horton, MorphoTrak’s director of marketing and communications.2 “It usually uses two index fingers, then transmits wirelessly to the AFIS system on the back end. Search in the database, and results come back with mug shots, warrants, and other information.”
MorphoIDent also allows officers to determine whether individuals are wanted in other states or jurisdictions. The system is connected directly to the FBI’s Repository for Individuals of Special Concern (RISC), a national database containing approximately 2 million records of wanted persons, sex offender registry subjects, and known or suspected terrorists.
Recently, according to Horton, the Missouri State Highway Patrol began using MorphoIDent, and, almost immediately, the system began paying dividends. A highway patrol trooper pulled over a car he suspected had been stolen, and within 30 seconds of transmitting the driver’s fingerprints to RISC, the trooper learned the driver was wanted in Georgia.
This capability can also help officers establish order in the midst of a chaotic scene, such as a criminal incident involving multiple suspects or victims.
“In the case of something like a gang shooting, you can line them up one by one,” Horton said. “Right there on the spot, you can capture their fingerprints and find out whether a person has a warrant or does not, is on parole, or what have you.”
As most law enforcement leaders know, when it comes to working more efficiently and effectively, the real difference is made not in the occasional major incident, but in the day-to-day business of public safety.
“If you pull someone over, you have to have reasonable justification for making that stop,” Horton said. “They could ask the person for the ID. If they say they don’t have it, the officer has to decide if the person is a threat and needs to be taken to a substation to be identified. This helps them decide on the spot.”
According to Horton, a study conducted with the police department in Miami-Dade County, Florida, found that by avoiding transporting people to substations as a result of this field identification ability, the agency saved the equivalent of one officer’s annual salary.
In terms of day-to-day operations, few areas have the potential to make as great a difference to law enforcement on a daily basis as parking tickets and similar minor traffic enforcement. Complus Data Innovations Incorporated offers mobile computing solutions that can dramatically increase parking revenue—a significant funding stream for many public safety and law enforcement agencies.
“There are fewer erroneously issued tickets, more violations issued, more efficiency. Sometimes handwritten tickets are thrown out because of poor handwriting or destroyed because of inclement weather,” said David Holler, director of business development for Complus Data Innovations.3
Advanced Public Safety Incorporated provides electronic ticketing applications for mobile devices and computers installed in patrol vehicles. The company also offers voice response and input applications that help make every computing task easier and faster for law enforcement professionals.
According to Holler, the Complus parking enforcement technology can scan barcodes, take pictures, and communicate in real time with properly equipped parking meters. Holler said the technology can raise the average rate of collection on parking tickets from the national average of about 70 percent to about 91 percent.
But even as mobile computing technology grows more advanced, it also must be durable if it is to be truly practical in a public safety context. Making sure devices work in the worst of times and conditions as well as the best is critical to making a difference.
“Outside of the military, law enforcement is one of the largest markets for rugged mobile computers,” said Panasonic’s French. “It’s a tough job that demands technology that can handle a variety of environments. Increasingly, law enforcement professionals are looking for improved usability, flexibility, and connectivity, without making compromises on durability, security, and return on investment.”
Acura Embedded Systems manufactures high-performance computers and monitors tailor made and tested to withstand the rigors of day-to-day life in law enforcement or fire prevention.
Other hardware components also must be up to the challenge of performing under suboptimal conditions. In Motion Technology Incorporated makes routers specially designed to use in vehicles. L-3 Mobile Vision offers a new V-One Allin-One Mobile Data Computer that is designed with state-of-the-art materials that resist impact while also making it easier to work with, in part by making a touch screen that responds to touch when the officer is wearing gloves. L-3 also provides video equipment tough enough to be mounted on a motorcycle.
French noted that Panasonic has recently introduced a Toughpad line of tablets, to complement its existing line of Toughbook laptops, convertibles, and handheld devices. According to French, the products are not only tough, but speedy, equipped to handle the everexpanding stream of data.
“Connectivity is a big factor, and its importance will continue to grow,” French said. “As 4G LTE mobile broadband spreads across the country, and more agencies move to ‘the cloud’ for databases, file storage, and applications, it becomes increasingly vital for officers in the field to have dependable, high-speed connections. Officers also are increasingly relying on mobile video while in the field, and high-speed wireless is vital for transferring and storing these files. 4G LTE connectivity is available on all of our mobile computers for law enforcement.”
Other companies offering new mobile computing solutions tailored for the special needs of law enforcement and public safety include Colorado-based Brother Mobile Solutions, Texas-based Coban Technologies, and Illinois-based Motorola. Combining technological advances with the durability needs of law enforcement can be a tall order for computing manufacturers. But plenty of solutions appear to exist that are enabling police officers to take advantage of emerging capabilities and do their jobs—ensuring public safety—more effectively. ♦
1Scott French, email interview with the author, March 31, 2013.
2Robert Horton, phone interview with the author, March 19, 2013.
3David Holler, phone interview with the author, March 18, 2013.
Please cite as:
Scott Harris, "Mobile Computers," Product Feature, The Police Chief 80 (June 2013): 5658.