Back in 1994, one of the things on my wish list was to implement mobile data computers in patrol cars for Lincoln police officers. Clair Lindquist, our IT manager, and Sgt. Todd Beam were my collaborators. We occasionally walked downtown for lunch, often accompanied by Tim Travis from the City Information Services Division.
The four of us brainstormed at the food court from time to time about exactly what we hoped to accomplish with mobile data, and how we could get there. While delivering dispatch information and messaging between units were two of the functions we sought, our real dream was to give officers in the field access to the same rich information resources they enjoyed at headquarters, where they could use terminals to access our growing database: the LPD Records Management System.
I had some ideas; Clair, Todd, and Tim, though, had something more: talent. The next few years involved a flurry of activity. A bond issue was floated to upgrade the radio system to support mobile data; we ported much of our RMS to .html output that could be consumed in a browser; we sought grant and budget funding to support the efforts, and so forth. There was a political side, too. Not everyone at LPD was on board with the concept, and naysayers were flexing their muscle. I remember very well being called out at a City Council meeting by a council member who "had heard from several officers" that this was an unnecessary boondoggle.
By the end of the decade, though, we were well on the way, Todd was installing mobile data computers in each new model years' patrol cars, and Clair was continuing to add more functionality as opportunities arose. By the middle of the next decade, the fleet was fully equipped. We had also brought Lincoln Fire & Rescue and the Lancaster County Sheriff's Office aboard in mobile data. It didn't stop there, either, as we extended our mobile data network regionally, bringing in a dozen other Southeast Nebraska agencies, such as Thayer County, Milford, Seward, Nemaha County, York, Otoe County, NSP, UNL, and more.
Fast forward to Monday, June 2, 2014. As usual, I was reading a few police reports in the living room over my first cup of coffee, when I came across B4-048400. It was a nice case in which Officer Joshua Schaaf spotted a car with stolen license plates, determined the identity of the two occupants despite misdirection, located some pharmaceuticals and recognized them as controlled substances, and confirmed some outstanding arrest warrants.
The officer had used his mobile data computer to do all of these things, accessing the nationwide NCIC database, the State NCIS database, the Lincoln police RMS, our local mug shot system, and an online pill identifier app from WebMD. Of particular note to me was his use of the "known associates" feature in our RMS, whereby the officer selects a name, and looks for any other names this person has been associated with on any other police reports in the past 34 years. This pretty quickly ended the ruse and provided the true name of one of the defendant who had been deceitful.
This kind of thing goes on regularly these days, but as I read the officer's probable cause affidavits on these two arrests yesterday morning, I couldn't help reflecting on the fact that we had accomplished precisely what we had hoped to do when we started down this path 20 years ago: provided some valuable resources to police officers in the front seat of the patrol car, and now even in the palm of their hand.