Notebooks keep cops on the street

Notebooks have been deployed in a slew of police squad cars in Altoona, Wis., to ensure that officers can better use their time on the street, instead of sitting at a desk compiling tedious paperwork.

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Notebooks have been deployed in a slew of police squad cars in Altoona, Wis., to ensure that officers can better use their time on the street, instead of sitting at a desk compiling tedious paperwork.

The Altoona department this year deployed Lenovo ThinkPad X41 Tablets in its squad cars. Initially, the deployment was designed to accommodate just a citation-writing application, but the officers using the tablets quickly learned that they can do much more.

"Squad car technology has been making leaps and bounds," said Altoona Officer Dana Brown. But as the technology progresses, it is often difficult to secure funding. Because the department is a government agency, Brown said, paying for in-car technology is a challenge.

Instead of settling on old or outdated technology, the department secured funding for Traffic and Criminal Software (TRACS). But TRACS was somewhat limited, allowing officers only to run license plates and registration checks from in the car.

"What do we have to do to make this more effective?" Brown asked. Eventually, the department decided to obtain in-car notebooks so officers could use the cellular network to transmit data to and from the car.

After looking at Panasonic Toughbooks, which were deemed too expensive, the department decided to deploy Lenovo ThinkPad X41 Tablets.

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One factor working in favor of the ThinkPads was their compactness and their ability to swivel out of the way and free up some much needed space inside the cruisers. Brown said police cars are notorious for having very little room to spare, so anything that cuts down on clutter is a bonus. ThinkPads can also be swiveled and used as a tablet.

"There's a whole lot of crap that gets in the way of doing business," he said.

Other features include an Active Protection System, which is an integrated motion sensor that can detect sudden changes in movement and temporarily park the hard drive to protect data resulting from falls or drops. They house an integrated fingerprint reader, which Brown said the department will probably use in the future, and an embedded security system that protects and encrypts vital information.

Brown said the new system allows officers to write citations and print them out on the spot, without having to go through massive amounts of paperwork; and the wireless connection lets the information entered be sent back to headquarters, eliminating the need for officers or data entry staff to re-enter into the system and later file it in court.

Officers also have to rely less on dispatch, since they can quickly look up most information inside the car. Wirelessly, officers can access license and registration records from the department database, enter notes directly into the main system, and use WWAN access from the tablet to download password-protected information maintained by the Department of Justice.

"The emphasis is, we want to keep officers on the street," Brown said.

According to Dane Deutsch, CEO and president of DCS Netlink, the company that helped the police department integrate the system, the in-car system offers other benefits along with being able to use citation software.

"They can get to the Internet and secure Web applications, as well as citation applications, and still print locally," Deutsch said. He added that centralizing data back at headquarters allows the officers to avoid storing important data on the ThinkPads themselves.

"This allows law enforcement to get back to being law enforcement," he said. "Now they don't have to be IT pros or do data entry."

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