Government Technology

Tailored Technology

September 8, 2004 By

Editor's note: Raymond Foster is the author of Police Technology, a book written for both students and practitioners. He describes the book as "a practical examination of law enforcement technology through the lens of common criminal justice themes, theories and issues." Before retiring, he served in the LAPD for more than 23 years, and rose to lieutenant after working a variety of assignments including patrol, communications, community relations, internal affairs, traffic and detective.

Recently he worked as a technical adviser for an episode of the History Channel's Modern Marvels called Police Pursuit. While searching for locations to film, Foster interviewed the co-owners of Woodcrest Vehicle Center, a company that specializes in a different approach to installing mobile technologies in police cruisers.

State and local governments can spend more than $50,000 outfitting one police vehicle with modern technologies, and adding the necessary information technologies can double the cost of outfitting the vehicle, according to market observers and police departments. Vehicle service life varies, but typically lasts 24/7 for three to five years -- or about 85,000 miles.

With the technology refinements that transform police cruisers into mobile offices, equipment installation is similar to creating a small network in a home or office. Each police agency starts with basic computing requirements and adds peripheral devices, choosing different technology combinations, such as multiple radios, in-car video, mobile data computers or even docking stations.

In the past, different agency choices meant different installation schemes, and often duplicate and competing installations. The vehicle would be shuttled from vendor to vendor with the lights, radio and other equipment installed at different locations.

Today, the mininetworks installed in police cruisers are approaching plug-and-play functionality of many home or office networks because more agencies are considering commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) technology choices.

Hours of research and design are spent making technology rugged enough to withstand the rigors of field police work, but until recently, few concentrated on also making the installation rugged.

An unlikely trio of entrepreneurs -- Jack Kelley, former officer with Riverside Police Department; Tom Harper, retired fleet manager from Banning, Calif.; and Danny Gonzales, designer of high-performance, off-road racing vehicles -- has developed a unique installation design and protocol for IT in police cruisers.

Satisfying End-Users

Typically police officers are considered the end-users of mobile information technologies. But in reality, end-users also include any personnel who maintain the vehicle, and information systems (IS) personnel who repair and upgrade the technology.

These three can be, and often are, competing end-users, each of whom places a different demand on how a technology is implemented and used -- catering to the different end-users means meeting a range of needs.

Equipment installation has a huge impact on people responsible for servicing the vehicle, said Brett Hite, fleet coordinator for the Riverside Police Department.

For law enforcement officers, how installation contributes to equipment functionality is a major concern. No officer wants to see his or her equipment crash because it wasn't installed properly.

Deputy Corky Butler of the Riverside County Sheriff's Department said he grew accustomed to carrying a tool kit to repair loose radio connections.

"I carried pliers, screwdrivers and fuses because the radio was access to my backup," he said, and backup is important in a large county with many desert and rural areas.

Closely inspecting a police cruiser's interior will likely reveal a myriad of wires and connections placed dangerously close to sharp metal edges and other hazards.

Indeed, one installation scheme bundles wires for the radio, mobile data computer and emergency equipment, and leads them off directly behind the gas and brake pedals. Each time a driver applies either pedal, the wires are pushed down.

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