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What cops want: How a rugged tablet can provide for truly mobile policing

A recent survey shows that laptops may be standard issue, but police officers would prefer smaller, lighter mobile computing tools in the field


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Sponsored by Zebra Technologies

By PoliceOne BrandFocus staff

PoliceOne surveyed officers earlier this year to learn more about their use of mobile devices and what tools and features they wanted in the field. The responses showed that while laptops continue to dominate the mobile technology used in law enforcement, officers need more flexibility in the field.

Rugged tablets designed specifically for public safety can provide the desired operating systems, software and security needed for professional use, as well as a detachable keyboard to make writing reports easy whether in the vehicle or at the station. (image/Zebra Technologies)
Rugged tablets designed specifically for public safety can provide the desired operating systems, software and security needed for professional use, as well as a detachable keyboard to make writing reports easy whether in the vehicle or at the station. (image/Zebra Technologies)

The survey included open-ended questions for more candid feedback, and many officers indicated that they are using a laptop only because it was issued by their agency but would prefer something smaller and more mobile. These results suggest that police officers would prefer the flexibility of a rugged tablet.

Of those officers who said they were already using a tablet, 55% said that tablets are truly mobile computers, meaning they can stay with the officer at all times, while others said they like how tablets take up less room in the vehicle than a laptop when they are mounted.

What functions and features do cops want?

The survey included a few open-ended questions to explore the features most used on mobile devices in the field today, along with a wish list of desired functions and improvements. Most respondents said they want more mobility from their technology tools, and just as many wanted rugged computers. Better wireless performance, improved speed and the ability to write reports in the field were also frequent responses.

Greater security was another item on the wish list. Officers want to be able to access CJIS or similar systems while in the field versus being restricted to desktop-only access. Desktop computers have historically been viewed as more secure, even though rugged tablets can offer equal security capabilities with multi-factor authentication, encryption and more.

Rugged tablets designed specifically for public safety can provide the desired operating systems, software and security needed for professional use, as well as a detachable keyboard to make writing reports easy whether in the vehicle or at the station.

Tablets offer mobility, security and more

Zebra Technologies, through its Xplore portfolio, offers a variety of rugged mobile tablets that meet all these needs. Xplore rugged tablets are designed for durability and reliability. Each tablet is carefully engineered to deliver all-day connectivity, enterprise-grade security and high-quality computing capabilities, whether officers are using the mobile computer in the office, in a vehicle or in the field.

Many treat the words “mobile” and “portable” as synonyms, but in the context of computing devices, they mean different things, says Bob Ashenbrenner, president of Durable Mobility Technologies and a consultant who works with Zebra Technologies.

“A laptop is a portable computer that can be moved from place to place but is typically only used when stationary,” he said. “A tablet is truly a mobile computer because it is easy to carry and can be used while standing and working anywhere.”

For a device to be truly mobile, several key features are needed:

  • Battery life sufficient to cover a full shift.
  • Rugged construction to withstand adverse conditions (weather, drops, etc.).
  • Reliable wireless/broadband connectivity.
  • Fast and reliable computing performance.

The Zebra R12 and L10 series of rugged tablets offer all these elements, as well as critical security and operational features. The Zebra tablets run Windows OS and provide security features that include an integrated fingerprint reader and Microsoft’s Trusted Platform Module technology for multiple physical security mechanisms.

The hot-swappable standard battery’s life is 10 hours, with an optional extended battery on the L10 series for up to 27 hours of life. The tablets meet tough standards for durability and are tested to meet MIL-STD-801G requirements for drop, shock, extreme temperature, fluid exposure and more.

The Zebra tablets also offer several key features that make them easy to use, such as a detachable keyboard for easy reporting in the field, a “view anywhere” display/screen and standard auto-sensing that includes gloves and wet touch. Chargers and other accessories can be shared across all Zebra L10 tablet models, and the accessories purchased today will remain fully compatible with future-generation tablets.

Reduced computing costs, increased officer satisfaction

The city of Brenham, Texas, recently reduced its mobile computing costs by 30 percent by replacing its existing fleet of laptops used in city police cruisers with Zebra’s XSLATE R12 rugged tablets. Officers use these mobile computers for dispatch and routing, as well as for accessing data (like license plate databases) and writing reports. They also have access to the full Microsoft Office suite, along with a GPS-based mapping system.

“Our previous laptops had weight issues, cost issues and just weren’t as versatile as the new tablets,” said Captain Dant Lange, operations commander for Brenham PD. “The tablet form factor is simply easier for the officers to manage.”

The tablets have proved much more convenient for officers to use in their vehicles, Lange says, because they take up less space than the laptops did but still provide a large 12.5-inch display. The tablets can easily be snapped in and out of the docking station, and officers are able to black out the screens of the tablets to safeguard sensitive data.

Officers can use the tablets to message each other via their software applications. The tablets also have an emergency call feature, so if an officer is in trouble or in an accident and can’t access the radio, they can hit an emergency button on the tablet to summon help.

“The touchscreen functionality is much more in line with today’s technology,” Lange said. “Our officers need information as fast as they can get it, and the new tablet, combined with the software we’re running, has made things go faster. That’s helped improve our efficiency and has also made the officers’ jobs easier.”

 “The officers live in their patrol cars for a 12-hour shift, so it’s nice for them to be able to pull their tablet out, get out of the car, and finish up their reports in the office,” Lange said.

 

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