There are essentially two types of computers in American police cars: removable laptops and fixed onboard computers that aren’t meant to be removed unless they need to be repaired or replaced.
What makes one computer for a police car better than another? Proponents of ruggedized notebook systems say they offer versatility and portability. Proponents of permanently mounted systems say they offer better value and fewer problems in the rough-and-tumble world of law enforcement.
In May we reviewed a notebook; this month we’re going to look at a fixed mounted solution from JLT Mobile Computers for the car.
Our test machine, the 1205-PS, is a well-designed, one-piece unit measuring about 12 inches by 9 inches by 2.25 inches. It was the one-piece design that piqued my curiosity about this little-known patrol car computer.
What I discovered was a single unit, precision milled, out of solid aluminum and sealed from moisture, spills, and dust. I also found it meets or exceeds the government’s military specifications known as MIL-STD-810E.
What’s MIL-STD-810E? Let’s just say it’s one of those certifications you’ll want to insist on when buying equipment bound for a police car. Although equipment with military spec certification is more expensive, it also survives the day-to-day punishment inflicted not only by environmental factors but also from user abuse. With our equipment budgets shrinking this is an important factor to consider.
Another feature making the 1205-PS even more practical is its powerful 1000 NIT+ display, which is easily read in direct sunlight and at angles up to 120 degrees. Combined with its touch screen, both the driver and passenger can effortlessly manipulate applications by touching the screen and reacting to prompts.
The screen works so well there’s no need to purchase a separate display panel and mounting system. This is unfortunately not the case with many notebooks whose display screens are difficult, if not impossible, to decipher in direct sunlight. Sadly, many manufacturers fail to mention this fact but are quick to offer daylight readable screens for an additional fee.
For nighttime usage, you’ll find a large screen intensity knob on the right side of the case. Rotating it slowly dims the display from full intensity all the way down to black, thus reducing the silhouette effect produced by the lighting source. For emergencies or when the suspect hooked up in the back seat keeps snooping over your shoulder, pressing inward on the knob instantly blanks the entire display.
Knowing police agencies rarely meet the one-size-fits-all standard, JLT Mobile Computers provides quite a few variations in its ruggedized PC offerings. They range from the flagship model with the 1.4 GHz Pentium M processor and 12-inch SVGA (800x600) or XGA (1024 x 768) screen to models with smaller screens and slower processor. The fact is once you analyze your operational needs, you may not need the extra processing power, so why should you be forced to purchase it? As always, such options may increase or, in some cases, decrease your actual costs.
Other items you can customize include the total RAM, rugged hard drive capacities, keyboards with or without glide pads or integrated pointing devices, and two PCMCIA slots. Those two slots give the unit the ability to add 802.11 wireless, GPS, cellular, or anything else that fits into a PC card slot. On the back of the PC you’ll find several connectivity ports including two USBs, one FireWire, one PS-2, two RS-232 serial ports, and an RJ-45 10/100 ethernet connection port.
One item on JLT’s accessory list that, in my opinion, should be built into the case itself is the speaker. Because many of today’s proprietary applications use both visual queues and audio alerts to gain the user’s attention, a speaker should be standard equipment. I’d hate to discover my speaker wasn’t functioning properly because the USB cable somehow became disconnected.
I’d also like to see a dedicated “emergency” button or a keyboard with programmable buttons for one key press transactions. Maybe I’m a little overcautious, but knowing I can alert the communications center of an emergency without having to talk on a radio just makes me feel safer.
Playing devil’s advocate, I can say there are some pluses and minuses for both notebooks and fixed systems like the JLT 1205-PS.
Some of the pluses for permanent systems like the JLT 1205-PS include installation ease, fewer diagnostics, maintenance, and security. JLT’s one-unit approach requires less cabling and fewer failure points. And with no floppy or CD ROM drives there are also fewer opportunities to introduce viruses or unlicensed programs.
Since there’s only one unit, if it fails just swap it out with a spare and you’re back in service. With multi-component systems you could find yourself conducting several diagnostics to find the failure point. Finally, it’s not going to get lost, misplaced by a forgetful officer, or, worse, stolen out of the unoccupied car.
Just like the police cars you’ve purchased, JLT’s computers attempt to follow a similar life or replacement cycle. To do so, JLT offers a unique limited warranty plan. I call it the flexible warranty plan. If you choose to go with the three-year limited warranty or lifecycle, the PC has a trade-in value just like the car you’re turning in for a replacement. However, if you opt for the five-year warranty, then you lose the trade value, but you gain the longest manufacturer’s limited warranty I’ve ever heard of for a ruggedized mobile computer.
JLT Mobile Computers’ 1205–PS computer system is a rugged workhorse with a proven track record. And if you’re looking for a permanently mounted ruggedized computer solution for your agency’s patrol cars, I’d recommend that you give it a look.
Bob Davis supervises the San Diego Police Department’s computer lab. He has 26 years of experience on the force.