Virginia agency speeds queries and dispatch with mobile data
Multiple database queries, improved call response times and interserver messaging are enabled by a new combination of mobile data software and computer-aided dispatch equipment for public safety.
Most public safety mobile data users say their systems can perform some pretty amazing feats, but an officer in the Manassas, VA, Police Department recently apprehended a criminal using the department’s new mobile data system-without having to push a button.
“We had just started using the system,” explained Manassas Police Lt. Bill Spencer, “and one of our officers was just conducting a routine traffic stop. As soon as the suspect saw that the officer was going to put his drivers’ license informationinto a computer, he said, ‘Don’t bother, I’m wanted.'”
That is just one of the numerous stories Spencer can tell about how Manassas’ new mobile data and computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system has caught many suspects who otherwise would have been released.
“In fact, we turned on the system in two squad cars, and within four hours officers took a convicted felon off the streets, used state and federal database information to apprehend two out-of-state felons who otherwise would not have been caught, and recovered two stolen cars,” Spencer said.
“Probably the biggest improvement for us is that we are now able to query multiple databases simultaneously,” Spencer said. “The officer is now the end user, so that dispatchers don’t have to read the information back to the officer and risk security of the transmission and delays due to voice traffic or having to repeat information.”
As a result, officers can respond to calls in 12 seconds, compared to the 10 minutes it used to take, Spencer said. They also quadrupled the number of inquiries made per day to federal (NCIC/NLETS) and state databases.
“A lot of officers may not have wanted to admit it, but they did not run as many tags through dispatch as they should have because of voice traffic. But with mobile data, it is so easy,” said Spencer. “Now we are querying the state database 400 to 500 times per day.”
Manassas was one of the first to benefit from an alliance formed last year between public sector software provider HTE and mobile data software provider Software Corporation of America (SCA) to improve public safety software capabilities for law enforcement agencies nationwide.
The CAD system provides hazard, pre-arrival and other information and performs functions necessary for a modern police dispatch center, such as monitoring equipment and personnel locations, matching the closest available units for response to calls and tracking call status through to completion. The wireless mobile data system provides a means for data to be sent or received without involving the central dispatcher. From in-vehicle laptop computers, officers can use a keyboard, mouse or touch-screen control.
The system can be used over any mobile radio network including CDPD, RAM, ARDIS, Ericsson and Motorola. Manassas uses Motorola’s private radio network, which, when integrated with the mobile data software, provides reliable, “real time,” car-to-car communication that was not possible before. Because the software uses the government’s Data Encryption Standard (DES), it supplies secure and silent communication transmission. Manassas also uses CDPD so users who travel out of state can access the system.
“The silent and secure transmission is a huge advantage for us when we are performing a raid because we can communicate with each other instantly, and we cannot be scanned,” added Spencer.
CAD and mobile data are not new, but the combination of system features under the alliance is. For example, the system provides messaging between vehicles, on-screen reporting, a records management system and an optional Global Positioning System and mapping system that uses giant screen maps and automatic vehicle locators to track squad car locations. Another option is text-to-voice capability which “reads” vital information from the computer to the officer over speakers installed in the squad car.
“We added text-to-voice, which has reduced response time even more because, by law, we cannot respond to a call while reading a computer screen. With text-to-voice, an officer can be en route to a call and listen to the accurate details of the situation without having to battle radio voice traffic,” Spencer said. “Overall, the system has reduced our regular radio traffic by 35 percent.”
For hardware, Manassas uses a Motorola RNC 3000 Unix server, Toshiba and Texas Instruments laptops, Motorola VRM 600 modems and Quintar base stations. Seventy-two squad cars are currently mobile data enabled.
In early 1998, Manassas added imaging capabilities, so that when officers run a record a mugshot will also appear, if available. At the same time, mobile data capability was added to one of the four Harley Davidson motorcycles in the department’s fleet.
“The laptop in the Harley uses a CDPD modem and is mounted in a vibration-proof case. While we cannot use the motorcycle version for dispatching, we can use it to access NCIC and NLETS data, which greatly enhances those officers’ field capabilities,” Spencer said.
Links to other agencies
With the system, Manassas can also connect via interserver messaging over the Internet to other agencies. Interserver messaging enables two or more message switches to send and receive messages between the servers. Any department using a server maintained by the same company used by Manassas can be linked via a wide-area connection (like the Internet) to other agencies.
The largest agency using interserver messaging was also among the first to take advantage of the HTE-SCA alliance: the Valley Emergency Communication Center (VECC) in Murray, Utah. A consortium of 16 public safety agencies, VECC is the nation’s largest, multijurisdictional, integrated public safety telecommunications network. In addition to the core agencies, all other law enforcement entities in the state were offered the opportunity to try mobile data communication using the VECC server. This led to a mobile data “movement” of sorts in the state with about 700 users in 30 agencies taking advantage of the offer.
Interserver messaging has also been installed for the Peoria, AZ, Police Department.