March 23, 2006
 

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Posted: 03.01.05

Rugged to the Rescue

Ready to handle rain, snow, rough handling
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By Lt. Michael J. Kozak




Effective communication is essential between police, fire, EMS and other public safety responders and dispatchers. Instant access to critical information, whether local, state or federal, is also paramount. Officers must be prepared to address many different situations and complete various administrative tasks, such as incident reporting. As demand for services grows, better tools are needed to ensure that law enforcement agencies can continue to effectively address the needs of their communities with pride. One department that has implemented new technology to aid in how officers do their jobs is my force, the Rochester, N.Y., Police Department.

Serving a community of approximately 220,000 citizens in an area of more than 35 square miles, the Rochester Police Department was the first federally accredited agency in the State of New York. The Genesee River, which runs into Lake Ontario, splits the City of Rochester into two divisions, East and West. Within these two divisions, there are 22 geographical areas known as public service areas (PSAs). These regions vary from residential to commercial, industrial and manufacturing.

The Rochester Police Department recognized the need to reduce reliance on paper forms and clipboards as well as reduce radio traffic. With the assistance of Brite Computers in Rochester, the department initially introduced tablet computers to its patrol force in 2002, installing GeneSys
computers from Xplore Technologies. The department recently added over 80 new Xplore iX104 rugged tablet PCs.

The Situation

Although patrol officers were initially hesitant about moving to tablet PCs, they recognized the many benefits that automating existing business processes could achieve. During the early stages of the implementation process, we encountered two initial challenges. The officers were concerned about going mobile and learning an entirely new system. Secondly, they worried about the additional equipment that would be installed in their cars; they perceived the new mounts, consoles, tablets and keyboards as potentially cumbersome. Once these concerns were addressed, the department had to help its officers adapt to computerized reporting from pen and paper.
An officer’s clipboard contains all of the forms generally needed for a shift, including tickets and daily reports. Developing a plan of computerizing these forms over a series of stages became a key project objective. Of the computers that were evaluated, tablet PCs most closely resembled this already-familiar way of gathering information.

The Solution

Because the department addressed the officers’
concerns and utilized a familiar form factor, they quickly adapted to the technology and are now able to use a Windows-based interface to check computer-aided dispatch calls and locations as well as run license plate and record checks. Our computers enable our officers to have instant text messaging, access to policies and procedures and access to maps of geographical assignments.

Through a joint effort with the Governor’s Traffic Safety Council and the New York State Police, the Rochester Police Department implemented the New York State Traffic and Criminal Software (TraCS) e-ticketing and electronic motor vehicle accident reporting application in the fall of 2004. TraCS will allow patrol staff to begin completing and issuing traffic citations and accident reports electronically. Electronic report routing will occur both internally and to New York State.

The department stands to realize a number of considerable operational efficiencies through a reduction of manual data entry management processes and a reduction in consumable costs such as printing, storage and physical filing.
According to Lt. Leonard P. Casper, NYSP TraCS project manager, TraCS allows officers to scan bar codes from a driver’s license and/or a vehicle registration and automatically populate a traffic citation, accident report or other police front-end data collection document with the information scanned from that bar code. TraCS also includes functionality for officers to set up agency defaults, such as name, badge, department and precinct, so that when opening a document, the corresponding fields are automatically populated. This process leads to improved efficiency for the officer at the side of the road, as well as provides clear, concise and accurate electronic information that can be passed on to the local agency’s own database and to other state, county and local highway safety partners.

The Rochester Police Department decided to continue its efforts with Xplore Technologies because of its responsiveness to our specific needs. We feel that the tablet PC form factor is more versatile and vehicle-compliant than a standard clamshell-style laptop. It is also easier to position and most closely resembles an officer’s clipboard. Hardware consistency with the rugged tablet form factor was also important for a number of reasons, including cost, ruggedness and versatility.
Deploying the tablet form factor allows the officers greater flexibility in accommodating various mounting situations. That flexibility speaks directly to easier hardware installation standards and subsequently less customization costs.

The Xplore tablet is a completely hardened unit able to withstand extreme climates (such as upstate New York winters) and rough handling with no moving parts, i.e., a hinged keyboard that can be damaged. When the department first researched mobile computers, it was concerned about clamshell solutions. Even though the laptops were ruggedized, the evaluating team wanted to avoid an opening and closing motion, as well as issues of airbag compliance and friendliness during installation; hence, the tablets were our product of choice. In our research we found that laptops do not survive vehicle crashes. The Xplore tablets, however, have survived several such crashes and are designed to handle above-normal physical punishment: spillage, accidental drops, rain, snow, cold and heat, as well as other conditions that the typical laptop cannot.

The Xplore tablet computer can be docked or made mobile very quickly, which makes the device a versatile tool for our department. The new iX104 design was particularly appealing to us because of its Dual Mode capabilities, which allows officers to use a touchscreen or a stylus. Additionally, our
officers can choose to view the tablet in either portrait or landscape mode. Because of its overall design, the Xplore tablet has positioned us for further enhancements to our automated reporting implementation plan.

Finally, with the new Windows XP operating system and the design of the iX104, we have been getting extremely positive feedback from the officers through out our continued deployment of this mobile solution.
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