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Newport News (Va.) cops use mobile computing to increase situational awareness

P1 Tech Q&A: Master Police Officer Dennis J. Pointer of the Newport News Police Department

I’m in the truly unenviable position of being on the receiving end of between 100 and 200 public relations “pitches” a month, inviting me to “get a briefing” from some “expert” on some sort of product or service. Most of the time the item/company/person in question would be of no interest to me or the people who read PoliceOne, but every so often something comes across the transom that demands my attention. A few weeks ago I got an email indicating that the Newport News (Va.) Police Department’s 439 officers would soon be getting “cutting-edge solution that improves their situational awareness and productivity, and ultimately, the safety of Newport News citizens.”

Sounds like so much marketing mumbo-jumbo, right? Yeah me too, but having personally been the author exactly this sort of marketing mumbo-jumbo in my life before PoliceOne, I could see in it some serious potential, so I read and reread the note. This “force multiplier” technology would enable those 439 cops to use the cellular telephone network to access software applications from the department’s data center. Because those applications run on virtualized servers in the data center rather than individual computing devices, IT management is streamlined. In the event that one server fails, applications failover to another server — providing officers with a seamless computing experience.

All this would be assembled by CDW Government, a technology solutions advisor (a.k.a. “reseller”) to law enforcement agencies across the country, and would combine technologies from companies including Accelera Solutions, Citrix XenApp, and Panasonic Toughbook. Every one of those companies is a heavy-hitter, believe me.

The Toughbook is built for wireless communication that can withstand harsh environments. (Panasonic Image)
The Toughbook is built for wireless communication that can withstand harsh environments. (Panasonic Image)

Putting It All Together
Okay, with some of the marketing-speak stripped away, I began to get a sense of what this is really about. In essence, these companies combined to equip about 60 police vehicles with Panasonic Toughbook CF-30 and CF-31 notebooks running Citrix XenApp, which streams the abovementioned departmental applications to officers’ notebooks, enabling those cops to query existing records, file reports, send messages, as well as access dispatch and the local court scheduling and jail management systems.

Just a few days after my decision was made, I was able to connect — via my newfound PR buddy, Morgan — with Master Police Officer Dennis J. Pointer of the Newport News PD, to get a sense of what this new solution is doing to help the cops in that department. Master Police Officer Dennis J. Pointer has served the Newport News Police Department for 22 years, and is currently assigned to the Department’s Special Operations Division. MPO Pointer is a member of the Motor Carrier Unit and the Crash Reconstruction Team, and is also a Virginia State Certified firearms instructor, radar instructor, and DUI detection and apprehension instructor.

I emailed off my questions, and a few days later got the following replies. What follows is the outcome of that exchange.

PoliceOne: What exactly does the technology do?
Master Police Officer Dennis Pointer:
The Citrix XenApp application on the Panasonic Toughbook creates a virtual office in our vehicles. We can access our desktops, including many of the applications we would use in the office, from our cars using a police login. The information we access and enter is secure, and we can even access it in areas where bandwidth isn’t great.

PoliceOne: When did using the technology become a regular part of your routine?
MPO Pointer: We started using the Panasonic Toughbooks running Citrix XenApp at the beginning of this year. We previously had Motorola laptops, but as Motorola discontinued manufacturing laptops and the systems became outdated, our IT staff asked CDW-G to recommend upgrades. The officers tested several options and ultimately chose the Panasonic Toughbooks, which are ruggedized to withstand high speeds and high temperatures in vehicles. They are also water resistant.

PoliceOne: How does this solution make your life easier?
MPO Pointer:
Having the Panasonic Toughbooks with Citrix XenApp in our vehicles makes our lives easier in a variety of ways. We now have in-car access to many of the applications that we previously had to travel to the office to use. We can access criminal databases, such as the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), and applications such as Intergraph’s I/Leads law enforcement records management system, which we use to search existing records and file reports.

Other applications allow us to connect with local, state, and Federal databases while on patrol. The technology is a big time saver —we no longer have to spend 20 minutes driving to the office to look something up or file a report, and paperwork that could previously take up to a week to file can now be done in real time from our vehicles.

PoliceOne: How does it impact your success?
MPO Pointer: Not only does this make our lives easier from a logistical standpoint, it also serves as a crime deterrent by keeping more officers visible in the field, rather than at our desks filing paperwork. We can spend more time in the field responding to calls. We are more efficient and more available to the people who live and work in Newport News.

Viola! An interesting communications technology story! Thanks to MPO Pointer for taking time to answer my questions, and to the PR person who initiated this article by actually reading the stuff I write about and sending me something that made sense for me to pursue. I’m taking off the month of December (at least as it relates to writing technology stories) but will return in January with something new. Perhaps something you use on patrol. Send me an email if you have any suggestions on what I should be looking at in 2012.

Stay safe my friends.

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