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April 20, 2010
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John Rivera Technology Helpdesk
with John Rivera

P1 Tech Help: Balancing safety and productivity of in-car computing

Reporting from your squad can help you avoid dangerous situations on duty

Today’s officers have capabilities that are the envy of some cops from “back in the day.” Some of these abilities can be cumbersome and some are considered witchcraft by the officers from the day when it could take minutes (even hours) to identify a suspect and send that information out to other Patrol Officers or neighboring agencies.

I have written about in-car connectivity, its benefits, and the abilities we take for granted today.

An incident happened just a few nights ago on my shift where MCT connectivity went down throughout the county. Although we did not fold up and stop patrolling the streets, we did feel a little hampered because we momentarily lost our ability to run license plates or search for pending calls from our vehicle-mounted MCT. It felt a little like being in the mid 20th century. The incident reminded me of how dependent we’ve become on computers and the abilities they give us.

Fortunately, connectivity was soon reestablished and we were able to return to the 21st century.

Today’s officers not only enjoy the ability of almost instant information exchange, but also the ability to write reports on computers in their patrol cars. One of my Sergeants recently commented about witnessing the introduction of computers to both the office and car. He spoke about the days when a hand-written report would sometimes bleed red from the errors found by the reviewing Sergeant. Then came the days when WhiteOut became the officer’s best friend.

Most, if not all, vehicle mounted MCT’s use Windows XP Professional version bundled with Microsoft (MS) Office. As I have mentioned before, MS Office has software that enables a person to write documents and other office type functions. By using the MS Office software, we now have the ability to check for mistakes (and hopefully correct them) before turning in a report.

That same ability to write reports and check for mistakes and accuracy from the office has moved into the patrol car. Civilians have commented to me about the inside of my patrol car and wondered how we can do our job with all the gizmos we have in our patrol cars. Truthfully, I don’t think some of us would know what to do without the gizmos.

Just kidding — the truth is that we would adapt and continue to work, just like our predecessors did, and just like my PD did when our connectivity went down.

The main gizmo most patrol cars share in common is the laptop computer. It doesn’t matter if you have a Panasonic Toughbook, a General Dynamics Itronix, a Getac P470, or one of any number of other computers mounted in your patrol car. This tool helps today’s officer do the job faster and more accurately.

Some agencies have in car printers that enable the officer to print the report and turn it in. Please do not mistake the Infraction printer many Officers now have in their car. That printer is a “thermal printer” which uses different paper. Some companies have “pocket printers” that print on regular paper and can be easily installed to your MCT via USB connection.

The computer has also enabled us officers to complete reports without ever stepping inside the office. Most agencies with this ability can even send reports to the sergeant for approval without ever getting out of the car. The ability to write the report from the car helps us stay out on the street longer and hopefully catch the bad guy soon after the call goes out.

My advice to fellow officers choosing to write reports in the car is to choose a safe location to type. The tragic events of last year here in Washington State are a testament to what can happen to Officers who are working out of the office and who have divided attention. We have the luxury of having a U.S. Navy base in our city and that is where I do the bulk of my in-car report writing.

Either way you look at it, in-car computers have changed the way law enforcers perform our duties, from gathering data to writing the report right from the squad car.

Until next time, be safe.

About the author

John Rivera is a Patrol Officer with the Bremerton Police Department. John’s career BPD started as a Volunteer Reserve Officer and while he volunteered his time as a reserve officer he work as Police Officer at Naval Base Kitsap. He was hired full time in 2006 and attended the Washington State Police Academy. While at the academy, John was selected as the class “Techy” to help with the technologically deficient class instructors. Before John’s law enforcement career, he gained his computer experience through earning a degree in Computer Programming and then working in the computer industry as a Network Administrator and Systems Engineer for several companies.

Contact John Rivera

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