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October 03, 2003
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UMPD Gear Up to Fight Crime with Cyberspace

New technology pushes UMPD ahead of the game

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Outfitted with some of the latest in technological crime-fighting devices, University of Massachusetts police officers investigating potential suspects and witnesses are now capable of accessing records with much greater ease. Personal touch-screen computers capable of tapping into state and federal databases are now featured in five of the seven university police cruisers. In addition, specialty units such as foot, horseback, bicycle and motorcycle-patrols are equipped with five hand-held computers providing access to information such as the FBI crime database and outstanding warrants.

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The hand-held computers, known as Personal Digital Assistants, are one of the hottest trends in Web development. According to Deputy Police Chief Patrick Archbald, it is the greatest advancement in technology for police officers in 10 years.

"These PDA''s are cutting edge." Archbald said. "The only other department in western Massachusetts that I know of that has them is Springfield. ... A large percentage of [police] departments simply have one computer."

"We''re ahead of the pack," Archbald said. "We''re in a position where 10 officers out on the street can run criminal checks as well as motor vehicle registry checks simultaneously."

With help from the Everywoman''s Center in the form of $7,800, the police department was able to purchase computers that also allow access to stolen property records, gun registrations, and more. According to Archbald, the major grant from the U.S. Department of Justice for the new technology was $53,000. Combined with the donation from the Everywoman''s Center, the final amount spent for the new computer equipment, including the software that powers it totaled $60,800. Both Panasonic and HP/Compaq supplied the computers, while the software is a product of Public Safety Inc. According to Archbald, they were both the lowest bidders for the contract and the department has been working with them for the past few months in order to get the systems up and running.

"The initiative behind this is that these tools give officers the ability to do what once had to be done over the radio," Archbald said.

According to Archbald, the new computers allow for more flexibility, enabling officers to conduct their business without having to use the radio or tie up the dispatcher with detailed information that can clutter the airwaves. Archbald believes those days are over.

"I think one of the driving forces behind this effort was that we were transmitting information over a public frequency that can be heard on scanners," he said.

Archbald believes the trend among police departments is to limit the amount of personal information being transmitted out over the airwaves into public realm as much as possible as newer technology becomes available.

"Our detectives can use [the new computers] as well," Archbald said. "It makes it that much more of a secretive operation - a safer operation for the officers and detectives," he said, speaking specifically about undercover operations.

Archbald thinks the equipment offers a major amount of flexibility for officers working at concerts and events. The high-tech computers also provide Miranda warnings and other procedural readings in multiple languages, in addition to e-mail access, electronic interviews and incident report forms. As technology becomes more readily available, video transmission and fingerprint recognition systems are other possibilities for the department.

"Operationally speaking, this is just a huge win for us," he said.



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