It started with two-way radios, advanced through the use of radar to clock speeders and now has emerged full-blown with every Delaware State Police officer on patrol having instant access to a state-of-the-art electronic communications system.

The name of the game, according to technology officer Major Mark Seifert, is for troopers to be fully informed about everything they need to know as they go about their duties. The more they know, the better they can handle the situations in which they are likely to find themselves, he adds.

An obvious example: While making a so-called 'routine' traffic-violation stop -- troopers say there is no such thing as a 'routine' one -- it makes a big difference in how the officer proceeds whether the offending vehicle is 'clean' or whether it has been reported as stolen or involved in a crime. Until now, that information has been available, but obtaining it has involved

radioing the license number to the dispatcher and waiting for a reply.

Now, the officer can simply lean over and punch the number into the computer mounted next to him or her on the front seat of the patrol car. Instantly, there is not only the information a dispatcher would give but a complete record of the vehicle on the screen.

All 350 State Police cars now have computers. They are commonly referred to as laptops but the models are bigger and more sophisticated than that.

"We've been testing mobile data computing since 1995, starting with six vehicles. Other agencies around the country are using it, but we think we're the first state [police force] to be fully equipped," Seifert said.

The system is separate from the statewide radio system, using Verizon's commercial cellular communications network for data transmission.

More than an updated interactive information relay, the system has capabilities to further enhance the police patrol function. Report generating is a significant one.

A state trooper demonstrates the capabilities of the  mobile data computing system.

Crime reports can now be entered at the scene and accident reports soon will be. Instead of taking notes and later transcribing the data onto several paper forms, the officer simply responds to computer prompts. The task becomes even quicker with the capability to read imbedded bar codes, such as the one that is now on the reverse of Delaware driver licenses.

With the installation of printers in all cars, which is expected to be completed by this autumn, troopers will be able to issue electronically prepared traffic violation summonses.

"By the end of 2002 we expect to have completely, or almost completely, paperless reporting in place," Seifert said.

Although it is obvious that productivity takes a quantum leap in all this, he said it has not been measured in specific terms. Being able to handle the administrative end of the job quicker and without the need to return to the troop as often, there will be more officers on patrol at any given time. It is not likely that will be reflected in any reduction in the size of the force but will show up in more effective deployment, he explained.

The system also provides capability for automatic vehicle positioning. Instead of having the radio the cars for their location, commanders can pinpoint each at any given moment and make deployment decisions accordingly.

As forces in other jurisdictions improve their electronic capabilities, the systems will be able to automatically interact with each other. A Delaware trooper, for instance, will be immediately alerted if, for instance, a holdup occurs in Maryland with the possibility that the criminal is headed toward this state. "In the past, the complaint is that we (different police agencies) don't talk to each other. The truth is that we do, but this way we'll be doing it more efficiently and more effectively," Seifert said.

He added that the computer system will not become a tie to hold officers more closely to their cars. Soon to come is equipping them with Palm Pilots to provide them with much of the system's capability while on foot patrol.

Posted on August 2, 2001

2001. All rights reserved.

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