Friday, March 5, 2010

Handheld mobile data

Mobile data computers have become fairly standard equipment for cities of Lincoln’s size. When I became chief of police in 1994, this was one of my early objectives. The following year, we took the first steps to prepare for mobile data by floating a bond issue to upgrade our radio system to handle the load. A couple years later, we put out our first Panasonic Toughbook in a patrol car, and by the 1999 model year, all new cars were being outfitted.

This wasn’t an easy process at all. Aside from the technical side, there was also a political side. Not everyone was behind this concept, and a couple city council members questioned the need for mobile data. I remember one public meeting at which a council member said that she had heard from “several” officers concerned that this was not a wise use of local law enforcement block grant funds we had received..

This seems almost silly, when you look back on it now. The mobile computer is an important piece of equipment, that has certainly proven its utility. While you can still do perfectly good police work without one, it’s a great tool.

The mobile computer mounted in the patrol car, however, is increasingly being supplemented by hand held data in your pocket, for many officers who are using personal smartphones to access our databases. Since our records management system is web-enabled, if you have the proper credentials and a competent web browser on your mobile device. We have created some RMS content that is optimized for small screens, dating way back to Palm VIIs. You can do some significant business in our system—not to mention other apps such as Google Maps Mobile that can be pretty handy.

Last week, Officer Erin Spilker told me about an incident that her colleague, Officer Frank Foster handled involving a automobile driver with limited English proficiency. Frank has a Motorola Droid, and used the Google Translate app to carry on a simple conversation with the Spanish-speaking driver, and get the information he needed. It’s obviously not appropriate for a criminal investigation or a complex interview, but for this basic information it worked quite well.

Because I have been encountering more and more officers using their own smartphones at work, I did a couple of short training sessions recently where we could all share tips and tricks. It was well-attended, and I was surprised by the diversity of devices that people are using—including iPhones, various Blackberrys, Palms, Droids, Samsungs and other Windows Mobile phones.

Although I’m not real jazzed about people bringing their own electronics to work, I also know that it’s been going on in policing since the battery was invented. As a street officer, I used my own cameras and lenses, recorders, drafting equipment, and eventually computers, PDAs and cell phones. The department never had the funds to keep up with my equipment cravings, and I was willing to take the risk that my own gear might be rattled around. I figure that if some officers are going to use their personal smartphones as handheld mobile data computers, we might as well help them to do so effectively .


Anonymous said...

I used to carry a few dimes so I could use a pay phone, and a call-box key so I could call headquarters. That's how high-tech policing was in the olden days.

On Hwy. 81 there is a dead zone between York and Kansas where my cell phone, blackberry, and computer don't function. I actually enjoy the peace and quiet time. And I can actually focus on my driving.......


Anonymous said...

Now, if only the state system could be up all the time, or at least not down for hours and hours.

Anonymous said...

How many ruggedized smartphones are on the market?

Jerry said...


There are very few rugged cell phones on the market today. The closest is the Motorola Q which isn't the greatest as far as speed and reliability. The Palms are actually pretty sturdy phones. At least the Treo's were. The newer ones are fairly delicate.

Casio does put out a cell phone series called the G'zone. It is military grade.

I am sure it won't be long before they have a smart phone with the rugged features of the G'zone.

Trevor Brass said...

In light of officers being attacked while working on laptops while in the cruiser or anywhere else (Lakewood incident), can hand-held devices improve officer safety in the field? Or will it make officers, like everyone else, tune out their surroundings even more?

ARRRRG!!!! said...

Just don't text and drive.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to see an inexpensive fingerprint-scanning LE smartphone that would upload the print, run it against the NCIC with results returned to both the smartphone and the dispatcher. To be used when you'd detain someone that "didn't have an ID on them" (because they generally have at least one warrant out), not to amass a DB of prints from those not being detained.

Anonymous said...

"Or will it make officers, like everyone else, tune out their surroundings even more?"

He blogged about that a couple of years ago.

Tom Casady said...

Trevor Brass and 2:15-

I'm still concerned about it. I'm maybe not quite as concerned as I am in a car, but this is something those of us in policing have to think about tactically, and train for. It's impossible to hold this trend back, IMHO, so the best thing is to develop, train, and talk about it. For decades, we've been teaching police officers how to position themselves during interviews, and how to avoid being oblivioius to your surroundings while writing a citation in your patrol car. Many of these same techniques apply, but I worry that the computer or the smartphone is more likely than the notebook or the report pad to draw in your attention and focus more intensely.

Anonymous said...

Hope you do some more of the handheld classes. I couldn't make it to the other ones.