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Arming Police with Handhelds - High-tech system combats revenue loss and boosts public safety
Arming Police with Handhelds - High-tech system combats revenue loss and boosts public safety

Two of the largest law-enforcement agencies in the country are pioneering innovative mobility solutions to increase productivity and revenue. Many more applications are on the horizon.

Last year, the City of New York lost millions of dollars in uncollected parking violations because of problems with the tickets, such as mistakes or illegible handwriting. To combat this significant loss of revenue, the New York City Police Department (NYPD) has implemented a mobile technology solution that will make writing parking tickets by hand a practice of the past. This new high-tech system for issuing parking summonses will help the City of New York collect millions of dollars in revenue from unpaid parking fines.

On the other side of the country, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) has employed a similar mobile solution. LAPD officers are now equipped with wireless mobile computers, instead of a notepad and pen, to collect critical law-enforcement data pertaining to traffic stops and field interviews. This technology solution is expected to improve efficiencies, reduce errors, increase safety, and help the LAPD comply with the Department of Justice's Consent Decree.

On both coasts, law-enforcement agencies are following the trend of arming mobile workforces with integrated technology solutions to realize benefits that include increased profits, fewer errors, and more overall efficiencies in the way business is done. By collecting data efficiently and accurately, cities and municipalities can increase safety because officers can spend more time protecting the public and less time collecting and reporting information.

Integrated technology solutions such as these that include wireless, mobile, and barcode scanning devices have been in use in industries such as manufacturing, transportation, and retail for over two decades. This proven technology has a history of being very economical and easy to implement for an existing workforce.

Computerized Police on the East Coast
In New York City, overall crime rates have dropped 11% over the last two years. Homicides are at a 40-year low. Now, the city has an opportunity to enhance these impressive statistics with an increase in revenue realized from unpaid traffic violations. With the implementation of a mobility solution from Symbol Technologies, Inc., and business partner Duncan Management Solutions, the City of New York can collect what it is due in a timely, economical, and accurate manner.

The technology solution is comprised of Symbol Technologies' PPT 2800 rugged mobile handheld computer with an integrated barcode scanner and wireless local area network (WLAN) capability and Symbol's MF4T wearable thermal printer. This solution will ensure that all motorists pay traffic violations rather than avoid them through loopholes in the paper-based system.

According to the Mayor's Management Report, the City Finance Department collected $429 million in parking violation revenues last year, but millions more were lost because of problems with tickets, including mistakes, illegible writing, and data-entry errors. The City says the new system will significantly reduce errors associated with handwritten tickets and, according to some estimates, realize millions in unpaid fines owed. Now, motorists who park illegally will find a ticket on their windshield printed from a wireless printer instead of a ticket written by hand from a police officer.

NYPD's new mobile ticketing system works much like a barcode scanner at a retail checkout counter. The police and traffic enforcement officers use the mobile handhelds, which have an integrated 2D barcode scanner to scan the two-dimensional barcode on a motorist's vehicle registration sticker. The handhelds can also be used to scan other documents that have 2D barcodes, such as a driver's license or insurance card. All of the vehicle's data that the officer would have manually written on a ticket, such as the make and model of the car, vehicle identification number, and license plate number, is contained in the barcode. With one swipe of the scanner across the registration sticker on the windshield, the data is instantly and accurately captured in the system. The summons information is then transmitted wirelessly to the wearable printer attached to the officer's belt and is printed on the spot.

When a ticket was issued in the past, the information collected in the field was later entered manually into a centralized system for processing. If the information was entered incorrectly, the ticket would be thrown out of court and the motorist would not have to pay the fine. The new computerized system eliminates manual data entry, reducing errors and significantly expediting the processing of traffic violations. "The significant advantage is that we will go from a 13% error rate to less than a 1% error rate," said NYPD transportation chief Michael Scagnelli.

The NYPD expects the return on its technological investment to be a matter of months, not years, primarily because the error rate will be significantly reduced, allowing for additional collections. "For 20 years, this city has been trying to solve the problem that when parking agents make a mistake, we bill the wrong people and a lot of the fines never get collected," Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg told The New York Times. "Using the technology is an idea whose time has come. Finally, I think, we've got it right."

Computerized Police on the West Coast
In June of 2001, the City of Los Angeles and the United States Department of Justice entered into a Consent Decree to promote police integrity and prevent conduct that deprives persons of rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States. To comply with this Consent Decree, the LAPD is required to collect certain information about vehicle and pedestrian stops. This "Stop Data" includes the reason for the stop, the action taken, and the apparent race, ethnicity or national origin, gender, and age of persons involved in the stop. With an estimated 720,000 pedestrian and traffic stops annually, the LAPD needed a better method of collecting this information in an efficient and organized manner.

In addition to "Stop Data," the LAPD gathers information during field interviews. The data collected during field interviews is more detailed than "Stop Data" and includes physical descriptors of interviewed subjects and location of the interview. The department currently estimates that 90,000 field interviews are conducted each year.

Like the NYPD, the LAPD embarked on a strategic technological investment to update its current paper-based system with a computerized wireless solution that would ensure timely and accurate collection of data and minimize the time spent by officers collecting data. By eliminating the use of paper, the LAPD could also reduce errors and still ensure complete records. Earlier this year, the LAPD implemented an Automated Citations Solution from Symbol Technologies, Inc., and business partner Vytek Public Safety Solutions to help move their practices into the computer age.

The Automated Citations Solution consists of Vytek's ProfilerPD software and employs Symbol's PDT 8100 rugged handheld computer to collect and report "Stop Data" and field interviews in real time. The critical law-enforcement data that is collected while an officer performs duties, such as routine traffic stops and interviews with witnesses, is accurately uploaded through a secure high-speed 802.11b Wireless LAN. The system also gives officers access to the department's centralized databases, granting them admission to information such as an updated list of gangs in the area.

"This device is truly going to improve police work, improve credibility with the public, and at the same time give our officers more information than they could ever have before," said Roger Ham, LAPD Deputy Police Chief (Ret.).

Currently, LAPD officers collect data on paper and forward it to other personnel for data entry. The process is tedious for the officer and mistakes often occur. By collecting data with the Automated Citations Solution, the data collection and reporting processes have become streamlined and more accurate. It is estimated that officers using the handheld computers will need no more than 30 seconds to capture the required traffic stop data. This represents a significant timesavings over the current paper-based method.

Working much like a personal digital assistant that is sold to the public, the ProfilerPD software on the Symbol PDT 8100 is easy and efficient to use. Drop-down menus let the officer quickly record the make and color of a car or a person's ethnicity. There are textboxes and checkboxes to record physical characteristics including height, weight, beards, tattoos, and birthmarks. Sections to type in notes using the device's keyboard are also available, so the officer can write a detailed account of the traffic stop or interview.

The second phase of this implementation will see the LAPD implementing Vytek's electronic traffic ticket solution.

The Right Tools for a Tough Job
The PPT 2800 being utilized by the NYPD and the PDT 8100 in the hands of LAPD officers are devices that are ideally suited to assist with one of the toughest jobs in the country. These handheld computers were designed with today's mobile worker in mind. They work in virtually any condition, are comfortable and easy to use, and yet remain powerful enough to get the job done.

Since the conditions that police officers work in vary from day to day and can sometimes be rather harsh, it was important that the mobility solutions that the NYPD and LAPD chose featured handheld computers that could stand up to the job. The handhelds had to be as tough as the rest of the tools a police officer carries to protect the public. The PPT 2800 and the PDT 8100 proved to be the right tools for the job because they are rugged devices manufactured to withstand the elements and tough work environments, like the streets of New York and Los Angeles.

These rugged handhelds are fully functional in any severe weather condition an officer could be exposed to, including extreme heat, cold, wind, rain, or snow. They are sealed to IP54 industry standards so dirt, water, and dust cannot get inside the device and cause a malfunction. The handhelds can also be dropped on concrete and will still work properly.

Both devices are as powerful as they are rugged. They operate on the Microsoft Pocket PC operating system, which offers a flexible computing platform, is familiar to much of the public, and is easy to use. They also utilize the Intel StrongARM SA 1110 processor which operates at 206MHz and provides the processing power that any application needs.

The PPT 2800 and the PDT 8100 were also the right tools for the job because they met the safety and ergonomic needs of the officers. Since the devices are wireless, there were no attached cords that could potentially be used as a weapon by an assailant or get in the way during an officer's normal routine. Both fit comfortably in the hand and weigh less than one pound.

As with any integrated technology solution, the hardware is merely one piece of the puzzle. When choosing these solutions, it was important to choose a partner that had experience in law-enforcement applications, as well as a proven track record. It was very important that the NYPD and LAPD partnered with companies that weren't working in a vacuum, but understood what was being done in other industries and how the technology could best be applied to their needs.

The Future of Computerized Police
When the NYPD and LAPD invested in mobile technology, they both sought solutions that would grow with them in the future. The systems they selected are not merely for data entry and automated field reports, but have development platforms that are flexible enough to accept future enhancements. These systems can be designed to realize added productivity and increased revenue, while helping create a safer environment for the officers and the public.

One possible future application is combining an Automated Citations Solution, such as the system the NYPD is using, with a Mobile Data Access Solution. This would allow officers to wirelessly run a check on a license plate or driver's license number. The information about the motorist who committed the violation would be sent via a wide area network (WAN) connection and checked against states' Department of Motor Vehicles and FBI data. If the stopped car was stolen or if the person was a wanted criminal, the officer would instantly be alerted on the handheld computer, and could handle the situation appropriately. If not, the data from the DMV would be automatically populated into the citation, thus reducing the amount of data that would need to be entered by the officer.

Another application on the horizon for the public safety sector is the ability to arm emergency responders with wireless handheld computers that can be used to improve communications. This technology provides the ability for personnel such as Police, Fire, and EMS to talk over a single network to better protect the public and save lives. This technology also has the capability to stream live video into a central command post so the parties in charge can make quick and informed decisions.

Arming officers with mobile computers is just the beginning of a strong and successful partnership between law enforcement and mobility solutions.

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