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Product Review: VisionTEK's FrontLine Handheld Mobile Reporting Software

I tested VisionTEK’s FrontLine Handheld Mobile Reporting Software, a mobile public safety software suite. It is unique in the public safety industry because the end-user can actually design applications to suit the need of the agency. To me, it is probably one of the most brilliant ways of allowing hundreds of law enforcement agencies to give their input or share an application which is working for them.

VisionTEK is a provider of police reporting software products which integrate safety, reporting, record-keeping and communication. With over 800 clients of public safety, VisionTEK has the experience and structure to make them a leader in innovation.

The most effective means of benefiting the end-user is to allow them to be directly involved in application development. This particular model is part of the most recognizable model in the industry. I was reminded of this when Ivo Karadjov, VisionTEK’s director of product management and marketing, asked me what I thought of their software suite. I was talking to him on my smart phone and running through the applications I had just downloaded from Itunes. Do I think it will work? Yes, I think it will change the way public safety does business.

Photo by Lindsey Bertomen VisionTEK’s FrontLine Handheld Mobile Reporting Software could well change the way lan enforcement does business.
Photo by Lindsey Bertomen VisionTEK’s FrontLine Handheld Mobile Reporting Software could well change the way lan enforcement does business.

I believe that an agency will like the fact that they won’t have to go to their IT department or contact the software provider to tweak their report applications. Not only will this save time and money, it will encourage the agency to use an application which works for them, not one which is an interpretation of what the designer understood of their request. It also allows for changing statutes and reporting requirements.

Software testing is intangible. I am a hands-on type of person and needed something physical to understand what I was testing. I used a Motorola MC75, which is a high-performance handheld computer which includes WiFi, an integrated GPS, bar-code scanning, a two megapixel camera, Bluetooth, IrDA and CDMA-EVDO communication abilities.

I installed the FrontLine Freedom portal on my desktop. This portal includes a Report Manager area, where the citations I was writing on the handheld went after they were submitted, and a library where the user downloads forms. These forms can be used as they are written or modified to reflect the needs of the agency.

The software on the MC 75 was pre-installed. The FrontLine Handheld Mobile Reporting Software is pretty indifferent about where it is installed. If the device is Windows mobile or a desktop or laptop running XP or something similar, it won’t be a problem. Interestingly enough, it was pretty compatible with my voice control software also. I like to step back from my laptop and talk to it. Some agencies are experimenting with dictation systems in the car. This stuff will likely be just fine with dictation.

I started out using one of the forms available called Motorola Citation. It is a simple traffic citation form design for the generic traffic stop. I wrote a few traffic tickets with this form. This particular setup had pull-down menus for traffic violations, the ability to save commonly written tickets (very handy for officers using radar) and a violation search by vehicle code, which was particularly handy.

I liked the fields of the Motorola Citation, but I didn’t like the order in which they appeared. It proved to be easy to use the existing citation and write my own version of it.

VisionTEK has an excellent query field interface, which can be designed right into any application. Using message switching, a means of sending a block of data, storing it in a switching area and forwarding as a data block, one can design a form that will populate the report and do a public safety database query at the same time. For example, one can enter John Smith and a DOB in a report. While it goes in the citation, the system is also searching for warrants. This is a little more complicated than it sounds because public safety data has to come from an external source (NCIC, DMV and similar sources) while CAD data generally comes from an internal source. At this time message switching is the only way that this can be done. VisionTEK has several proven solutions for this type of integration.

After I wrote some citations, I simply clicked “send” on the citation, which updated the Report Manager screen in the portal. My citation appeared on the screen of my laptop. I discussed this with the VisionTEK folks and it is entirely possible to append a citation directly to a traffic court clerk using the same type of portal. For those agencies wishing to continue on the paperless quest, this is the way to go.

Obviously, data redundancy is an important aspect of this system. We wouldn’t want to lose a citation in the course of transmission. This setup had several means of getting the citation to the desktop including EVDO, attaching it to a cradle for a hard-line transfer and wireless secure data transfer.

I spent little time writing citations and designing my own reports. Do not limit your perception of this system to simply citations and reports. There are hundreds of reports available. The most interesting ones I viewed were things like a stadium ejection record, false alarm response documentation and evidence tracking. One can design text fields, query fields, radio buttons and pull-down menus for any of these reports. Because many handhelds have optional magnetic card readers and bar-code scanners (the Motorola MC 75 had a particularly good one of these), there are dozens of options for data input. There are many reports available for correctional facilities and municipal code enforcement. Ivo mentioned that one agency is working on a residential refuse violation for an area which has a problem with scavenger bears. Apparently, garbage cans in the area are bar-coded.

I do not like trying to type on little buttons, although the Motorola MC 75 was definitely user-friendly. Having a citation system which can populate the fields in a ticket by simply scanning a license or a bar-coded VIN number will abbreviate this process. Really, this is the way to go.

Consider this: What if a municipality used the same system for code enforcement, utilities, planning and parks and recreation? Would some of this data integration be useful during a critical incident callout?

When one designs reports in the FrontLine Freedom portal, it is simply a matter of clicking the “deploy” button and any logged on subscriber gets the application. Any user can put their application online for other agencies to use.

The most important aspect of this is data integration. I anticipate a scenario the beat officer using this tool for FIs, considering that the cameras on most of the handhelds I have seen are pretty good. In fact, the citations I wrote had signature fields where one would sign it using a stylus. I didn’t like this idea because occasionally you get the unpredictable traffic violator. Rather, I would snap a picture and use GPS tagging to document the traffic stop. Therefore, the officer could simply hand the violator a printout from a pocket printer in the car, “Sir, this is your promise to appear…”

As a beat officer, I was a firm believer in FI (field interrogation) cards. I tried to complete them any chance I got. At the time, our system consisted of a small pad of cardboard stock perforated cards. The officer would fill out the information, much as they would do an abbreviated report. Our detective bureau had a person assigned who would compile information. There were several instances in my agency where the FI cards fixed a person in place and time, providing some critical information for major crimes investigation. That is, homicide investigations were helped by proactive beat officers.

One of my fellow officers was very good at information gathering. I took on some of his habits. Whenever he completed an FI, he took a Polaroid photo. He would ask a lot of questions and occasionally get some very candid answers .He had a very efficient memory. For that reason, if an officer wanted to generate an investigative lead they would always talk to him. This guy is still at it and is one of the best investigators I’ve ever known.

I was always concerned about how quickly pertinent information could be delivered and how we needed to catalog this information to interpret and disseminate it. The better our tools get, the better we are at policing. With this type of system, data would be complete, immediate, easily disseminated and integrated.

I think VisionTEK has opened the door to a new era of mobile reporting. A layperson like me was able to design and use the portal and the mobile within an hour I populated the handheld in minutes. I was writing citations in seconds. I transferred written citations into the Report Manager in real time. Anyone can get a trial subscription at www.frontlinefreedom.com . It is worth the test drive just to see what is working for other agencies.

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