Deputies for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department (LASD) — the largest sheriff's department in the U.S. — are beginning to leverage broadband technologies in the field, thanks largely to a $19.9 million contract with Raytheon to install Panasonic Toughbooks in cruisers, SUVs and other vehicles.

"This new technology is certainly a welcome and powerful crimefighting tool," LASD Commander Darrell Evans said during a public event announcing the program.

Raytheon is in the first month of a 21-month deployment of the mobile digital computers (MDC) in 2,600 LASD vehicles. The MDC units are replacing a 26-year-old mobile data terminal (MDT) system that was reliable but difficult for the department to maintain, because some replacement parts were available only on eBay, according to Mike Bostic, Raytheon's director of public-safety solutions.

"[Migrating to the MDC system] is a huge leap forward," Bostic said.

Indeed, the legacy MDT units only supported text-based communications, but the new MDC system will allow a host of new applications, including mobile mapping, mobile identification, Internet access and eventually in-car video, Evans said.

"The adoption of Raytheon's MDC solution marks not just an evolution but rather a revolution in sheriff's communication," Evans said.

Of course, broadband connectivity is needed to support these advanced applications. The Raytheon solution uses a versatile multimode/multiband modem that supports access to AT&T's mobile broadband network, as well as 2.4 GHz and 5.0 GHz Wi-Fi networks, according to Kinner Oza, Raytheon's technical lead for the program.