No one knows better the pitfalls of outdated technology than county agencies patrolling large rural areas. They know what it's like to hand telephone rather than radio other agencies and the central office to track down information on suspects and in-field situations. And they know full well the pain of realizing that new technology is "out there" and available -- but potentially beyond the reach of their limited budgets.
But in today's world, law enforcement needs technology that can facilitate rapid response to crimes and emergencies. Central to this is the effective deployment of mobile technology that gives officers fingertip access to local, state and federal data banks and new software applications while withstanding the rigors of the squad car environment.
To this end, Michigan law enforcement agencies have banded together to improve data access and in-field operations through data sharing and mobile communications. In the process, they discovered that mobile communications facilitated not only in-field operations, but provided a foundation for new applications that would further improve law enforcement operations.
Sanilac County, Michigan
In square miles, Sanilac County is the largest county in Michigan. It is also highly rural, with a population of 44,000 people, patrolled by 15 officers in 20 cars. Every one of the Sanilac County Sheriff's Office's squad cars is equipped with a rugged laptop for mobile computing.
Dawn Cubitt is Sanilac County's director of Central Dispatch, which coordinates communications with both Sanilac County law enforcement and eight separate local law enforcement agencies. For the past year, Sanilac County and other local law enforcement agencies have worked with Core Technology Corporation of Lansing, Michigan, to implement mobile access to Michigan's law enforcement information network (LEIN), a comprehensive data repository. This databank contains vital information on suspects such as the number of warrants that are out, "hot files" on who to be on the lookout for, gun registration information and sex offender data. Officers can securely and reliably tie into this network from any geographical location to obtain "on the scene" suspect information.
"One of the biggest advantages we now see in the field is the ability to instantaneously pull up images of driver's licenses and photos," Cubitt says. "These systems also interface with our computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system at the central office. This speeds up the dispatching of complaints from central dispatch to the cars."
Before Sanilac County had total computerized integration with State of Michigan and central dispatch systems from the field, Cubitt says they relied on radio communications. But with such a large area to cover and only two radio towers in the county, there were invariably areas of poor reception for these signals. This impeded communications and slowed down the law enforcement process.
"Now that we have wireless communications, information is no longer being dropped," she says. "The officers are also using their laptops to write their own reports. Formerly, they used to bring written information into the office, where we'd type up the reports."
Kent County, Michigan
Kent County, Michigan, contains 22 townships and several incorporated cities, including Grand Rapids, Kentwood, Lowell and Wyoming. The Kent County Sheriff's Department fleet uses 50 rugged laptops in patrolling squad cars.
This technology has beefed up these agencies ability to communicate, says Lt. Michelle LaJoye-Young, Kent County technology and communications director. "We went from 800-MHz radio frequency communications to rugged laptops in cars and two Blackberrys that are hand-carried by in-field detectives," she explains. "These new wireless systems connect law enforcement information repositories through the iServices Gateway for linkages to multiple databases and records management systems. The systems include LEIN, CAD, a sex offender database and Secretary of State information that includes driver's licenses and photos."