Officer Rick Powell tests new technology for the San Diego Police Department. Above, he shows off the uncluttered interior of a patrol car equipped with the department’s new integrated wireless computer and communications system
A call came over the radio in Officer Rick Powell's car summoning him to an obscure location in the city. Powell, who serves in the San Diego Police Department's New Technology Division, quickly looked up at the new 12-inch color LCD display in his patrol car. Then with the touch of a pre-programmed function key, he enabled a Thomas Brothers Map program that was loaded onto the hard drive of a laptop computer mounted in the trunk of his car. A map of San Diego came up on the display, and Powell reached up and touched the screen. Then using just his finger to send commands, Powell expanded the image to look at another part of the map until he found the desired destination. Within seconds, he received the call, acknowledged it, accessed directions to the scene, and was en route.
Powell's car is equipped with a state-of-the art digital communications system that is being phased in at the San Diego Police Department. To understand the benefits of this high-tech system, take a look at what the department is currently using.
Officer Phil Backrog of the San Diego PD's Canine Unit received the same location call as Powell. It was relayed to him over an 800MHz digital, trunked radio system and displayed in text on the small, orange gas-plasma display of a Mobile Data Terminal (MDT). He read the message, then typed a response on the keyboard, which sent a text message back to headquarters. Then he consulted the only map he had available: a Thomas Brothers Map book in his car.
State of the Art
The reason Powell's car is filled with all those high-tech gadgets is simple: It's his job to evaluate every new technology that the department considers adopting out in the field.
Powell's duty isn't as cushy as most of his fellow cops might imagine. In the last 36 months, he has endured an endless number of presentations by salespeople, engineers, software designers, and hardware installers. He has also sat through meetings exploring the advantages of competing communications technologies, and has waded through specification sheets discussing an alphabet soup of communications technologies, including CDPD, CDMA, TDMA, and even GPRS. (See "Cellular Protocols" below for explanation.)
What put all this high-tech gear in Powell's car was an initiative by the San Diego PD to upgrade its communication equipment. As a result, some SDPD units are now showcases of 21st century wireless systems and mobile law enforcement computers.
To create the next-generation San Diego PD communication system, Powell and the other officers of the New Technology Division worked with Ken Clark, founder and president of Escondido, Calif.-based Peak Wireless. Together they waded through an ocean of information and came out on the other side with a cutting-edge, state-of-the-art system. Much of the software and applications have been specifically designed for the San Diego PD. "We are very happy with this latest system," Powell says.
Powell's test car now sports an integrated system that includes a Panasonic Toughbook ruggedized laptop, which is docked and locked in the trunk of the car. In the cab, the Panasonic color matrix LCD screen can be operated by touch, or by a separate keyboard. The communications go out over the air via Sierra Wireless ruggedized vehicle mount modems that are anchored to the car with Gamber Johnson laptop docking stations and Jotto Desk consoles.