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PDAs on Patrol

The latest hand-held computers and police software offer you much more than to-do lists and appointment scheduling.

February 01, 2003  |  by Dave Douglas


Aether’s PocketBlue 2.0 allows officers to write their field notes up on PDAs in the field and share them with other officers over a wireless network. The software runs on Palm OS, PocketPC, and Blackberry handheld computer systems.

Any computer is only as good as what it can do for you, and to do anything, it needs programming. The software applications for handheld computers are what puts you in touch with information you need. If you need to have a master's of science degree in computer systems analysis to get Joe Badguy's date of birth, it just might not be real helpful. Any value to the street cop is realized only with easy-to-use but robust software.

Currently, the two most popular law enforcement software applications for handheld computers are Aether Systems' PocketBlue and TriTech Software's Voyager. Both are solid patrol tools that can enhance public and officer safety and make it easier for you to do your jobs.

Aether's PocketBlue 2.0 is available for both Palm OS and Windows CE handhelds, and it also works on RIM Blackberry wireless e-mail systems. When combined with wireless communications, a handheld running PocketBlue can provide officers with a wealth of valuable information, including access to federal, state, and local law enforcement databases such as NCIC.

One very useful new feature in the latest version of PocketBlue is the ability to share field interviews with other officers over a secure network. Each officer notes the information into a handheld running PocketBlue 2.0, and then sends the data over the wireless network back to a departmental local area network running additional Aether software.

TriTech Software subsidiary Voyager Systems has also put together a suite of applications for law enforcement that can help you do your job a little more safely, quickly, and accurately.

Like PocketBlue, Voyager software can be used on any of the handheld hardware platforms currently available. This leaves the decision as to which hardware to choose up to the individual organization. One year the Palm may be easier for a department to purchase; the next year Hewlett-Packard's iPAQ may be the best solution. If a department decides that the Handspring should be issued to investigators but for durability reasons, it wants the Panasonic Toughbook 01 in the hands of its patrol officers, they can have exactly the same software, same user interface, and same features deployed department wide while using two different operating systems. This saves money when it comes to training costs.

Tritech Software’s Voyager suite runs on a variety of devices and gives users access to potentially life-saving data.

When combined with wireless technology, Voyager lets officers access any number of law enforcement information databases. Wants, warrants, NCIC, motor vehicle information, crime stats, local, state, and federal criminal history, even privately compiled data using the subject's social security number are readily available. The system even prioritizes the information it sends back to the officer according to what is potentially life threatening and what is nice to know.

Voyager and PocketBlue are used here as examples of what can be done with PDAs and good software. There are a number of other very good software providers out there. Templar Corp. is especially adept at finding solutions for cross-agency information sharing. The company is currently involved in a partnership with SPAWAR in building an application that can search databases from any number of varied jurisdictions and display the data in real time to the cop on the street.

There's a lot of great software available for PDAs. But a word of caution, beware of so-called "vaporware," features that software companies plan to add, but are not yet available. If your organization is looking at handheld software and the vendor makes a claim, make that vendor put it in your hand and prove that it works.

For More Information

Aether Systems


Hewlett-Packard (iPAQ)




Sony Corp.

Templar Corp.

Voyager Systems

Dave Douglas is a sergeant on the San Diego Police Department with 25 years of service.

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