Morrow police unveil mobile computers

By Ed Brock

Sitting too long behind a car that may have been involved in a crime before making a move can be a bad thing for a police officer.

"When you rely on radio traffic (to get information from the car's license plate) it tends to back up, and sometimes it becomes a safety issue," Morrow police Sgt. Jeff Yancy said. "The longer you wait the less element of surprise you have."

Now, using a system of computers linked by Nextel cell phones to computers at Morrow's 911 dispatch center, the department's records computer and the state's Department of Motor Vehicle Safety, Yancy's job will become safer, faster and easier.

"It speeds up the information gathering process a great deal," Yancy said.

The Morrow Police Department officially unveiled the new system to the city council on Tuesday night and they are training their officers even now to put the system on the streets. Morrow officers have already had laptop computers in their cars for a couple of years now, said Morrow's Director of Development and Information Technology Ben Mance, but they had to save their reports on a disk to download once they returned to headquarters.

"There was no connectivity. Now it's a true mobile data system," Mance said.

Mance said that the new system will allow officers to look up tag information at the touch of a button. They will also be able to communicate directly with dispatchers and see all the information they have on their computers. Supervisors will have access to instant field information such as which officers have been dispatched to what kind of incident and how long they have been there.

Officers will be able to write their reports while sitting in their patrol cars at one location, their supervisors can approve the report while at another location and the report is then automatically downloaded into the department's computers.

The system even eliminates the need to write traffic citations by hand.

"Now the officer just hits one button and the computer takes all that information (that it retrieved using the tag or driver's license number) and populates the citation on the computer with the information in two seconds," Mance said.

The officer then prints a copy using a printer in the car, gives a paper copy to the offender and the citation is, again, automatically sent into the mainframe without having to be typed in later by a clerk. Also, the citation is sent to the DMVS as well.

The same thing can be done with accident reports, and Mance said the transmitted information is encrypted to protect it from cyber intruders.

Mance said the department is using Nextel phones because they have a Global Positioning System capability that allows them to track where the patrol cars go.

"We can pull up a map of the city and show you what day, what time and even what speed a patrol car was going on a particular street," Mance said.

The system cost around $85,000 and Morrow Police Chief Kenny Smith said the department plans to use a $10,000 federal block grant to buy digital cameras for each officer. They can use the cameras to photograph a crime scene and download those pictures into the system from their car.

"There's obviously going to be a learning period with the system, getting used to it and learning all the applications," Smith said. "But we have some smart people and by doing it one step at a time, it's going to be great."