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Telecommunications Technology in Policing

Written by Susan Geoghegan

In the past decade, advances in telecommunications technology have changed the face of business. By responding to the challenges of today’s global market, telecommunications companies continue to fine tune their services in order to provide cost-effective solutions. But this new technology is not exclusive to business. Government agencies are now taking the initiative and upgrading their facilities with state-of-the-art wireless equipment.

AT&T, Sprint / Nextel, and Verizon Wireless all provide integrated communications strategies tailored to suit the needs of each police agency. Options abound, and with terms like Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS), police administrators seeking to enhance their operations must rely on these technology companies for education and guidance.

AT&T Wireless Options

AT&T offers a wide array of telecommunications solutions for government markets and provides a skilled technology team that will assess an agency’s needs and make the appropriate recommendations. The benefits of these solutions include facilitation of information between agencies, accelerated response times, and increased efficiency. Its “e-Government Solutions” include 1) a customized Web-enabled system that improves communications between agencies, while maintaining high levels of security, 2) creation of a Web portal to serve as a centralized channel for the exchange of information within the department and within the community, 3) assistance in designing, hosting, and maintaining the Web site and 4) recommendations from security experts on strategies to ensure protection.

Advanced telecommunication technology is also available to provide an agency with a comprehensive alert and notification service. A variety of voice and Web-enabled services can improve communication between agencies and coordinate resources for crisis management. Alerts can be distributed through multiple notification channels, such as e-mail, phone, PDA, text pager, or fax.

In addition, AT&T’s expertise can be applied to enhance performance of an agency’s call center by providing a solution that will integrate smoothly into an existing system. Some of the features include IP Interactive Voice Response (IVR), effective call routing and call queuing, multi-channel support and Web-based integration. By streamlining the system with this cost-saving technology, a police agency can provide improved services and enhanced productivity.

Today’s law enforcement officer functions more efficiently thanks to the numerous remote database tools now available. Through the use of compact PDAs, wireless phones, and laptops, police officers can gain instant access to criminal records from a host of databases. Rather than setting up its own infrastructure, an agency may want to utilize wireless technology solutions that are more cost effective.

For example, AT&T’s BroadbandConnect allows officers to perform many office functions in their vehicles. This includes their Sierra Wireless AC875 LaptopConnect cards and NetMotion Wireless Mobility XE, which is a mobile VPN that allows secure, encrypted access to law enforcement databases.

Sprint / Nextel Technologies

Sprint / Nextel also provides telecommunications technology for both small and large police departments, and everything in between. Its Land Mobile Radio (LMR) Interoperability Solutions allow agencies to retain their existing LMR network and enhance it with the Nextel secure network. Operational benefits include consolidation of dispatch operations, frequency conservation to free up LMR channels for first responder personnel and increased communications coverage.

Sprint’s mobile broadband solutions provide a secure, reliable, high-speed connection through the use of Mobile Broadband Cards and USB Modems. These tools allow officers to access network applications from the field, while a compatible wireless router connects multiple workstations to the agency network, allowing communication from any location.

For true state-of-the-art technology tailored to the specific needs of law enforcement agencies, Sprint / Nextel’s Voyager Application Suite offers two types of solutions. Both Voyager Query and Voyager Mobile are produced by ATS Public Safety and integrate with Nextel equipment and applications.

Voyager Query provides increased portability with either a BlackBerry handheld or a Nextel Java-enabled phone. It allows secure, wireless access to warrants and gives officers in the field the ability to run license plates, driver’s licenses, and vehicle identification numbers. Its benefits include real-time access to criminal justices databases, such as NCIC and CJIS, and improved operational efficiency.

Voyager Mobile utilizes a laptop that allows access to record management systems and criminal justice databases. Its features include computer-aided dispatch, automatic location of other units and in-vehicle mapping.

Verizon Wireless

Another leader in telecom technology is Verizon Wireless. With its IP Networking solutions, it offers applications to suit both small and large police agencies. The Global MPLS VPN network meets Cisco’s standards for voice, video, and data convergence, and keeps all users at every location in constant contact.

Verizon supplies a host of data and IP services appropriate to both small and large police departments. For example, the IP Flexible T1 system is perfect for small to mid-sized agencies and offers a cost-effective way to carry voice and data over the same connection. Its features include the ability to enhance existing equipment and systems with VoIP, no disruption to services while transitioning and the option to upgrade to other VoIP services as needed.

For larger agencies, Verizon recommends IP Integrated Access. It offers the power of VoIP without the cost of maintaining an infrastructure. This service 1) offers IP service upgrades to an agency’s existing PBX (private branch exchange) or key system and/or phones, 2) is scalable and interchangeable with other Verizon services, 3) ensures improved productivity and mobility, 4) provides network-embedded monitoring of voice quality and call-routing intelligence and 5) allows changes and additions to be handled remotely through a user-friendly Web browser.

These are just several of the numerous IP and voice options offered by Verizon. To date, this company has upgraded more than 4,650 organizations to VoIP, VPN and MPLS technology.

In the area of mobile solutions, Verizon’s Push To Talk service allows an officer to connect directly to other users with the press of a button. The multi-purpose Motorola V60p phone can be used as either a wireless phone or a walkie-talkie. Icons appear on the handset, indicating which users are available to participate in the call. Police personnel can talk one-to-one or in groups of up to 10 participants. Push To Talk technology rolls over into Verizon’s 3G Broadband services, a data network that provides critical information to officers in the field, allowing them to make quick decisions. A number of flexible service plans are available to fit any budget.

BIO-key

BIO-key’s PocketCop handheld technology delivers advanced identification solutions to government agencies. A PocketCop-enabled BlackBerry provides secure, wireless access to law enforcement and motor vehicle databases, allowing officers to quickly check the status of people, vehicles and guns. After a query is submitted, all relevant information is returned, including warrants, stolen vehicles, and photographs. Query responses are correlated into a Summary Tree for easy viewing and navigation. PocketCop offers interoperability with MobileCop (another BIO-key solution) and meets all FBI CJIS requirements.

Challenged with finding a wireless solution for their officers not in patrol cars, the Oklahoma County, OK Sheriff’s Office opted for PocketCop. Fifty-two deputies were given BlackBerry smartphones equipped with this field-friendly technology, giving them phone, e-mail, and Internet functionality in one handheld device.

It offers a full QWERTY keyboard for ease in entering names and numbers and secure NCIC access. Deputies and administrators alike have found that the PocketCop / BlackBerry solution saves time, allowing them to perform their jobs more efficiently. The results: better information in the field, heightened officer safety and better community service.

Custom Solutions

When determining which telecommunication options will be most effective, police administrators must take several factors into consideration. Fiscal and geographic constraints play a major role in finding the right solution, along with an agency’s size.

What may work for a 500-officer police department may not translate as well to a smaller agency of 50 to 100 officers.

However, Dan Gillison, director of state and local programs for Sprint / Nextel’s Public Sector Division, points out that size may not be as important as the type of solutions being sought. To highlight this point, Gillison cites a recent case study of a police agency in Georgia. In response to rising fuel costs, the decision was made to cut back on the number of officers in vehicles and put them on foot and bicycles. However, they were now faced with a real challenge: how could they ensure officer safety without access to in-vehicle laptops? Sprint’s solution was to provide a wireless phone that offers GPS tracking and real-time database retrieval. This technology gives officers the same access to information available on a laptop, only in the form of a cell phone or PDA.

When Sprint’s experts have their initial meeting with police administrators, they focus on gathering information, identifying applications currently in use, and determining an agency’s ultimate goal. Based on this, they make their recommendations and, once approved, provide a demo solution. If the agency’s feedback is favorable, a proposal is submitted for consideration.

References can also be provided from other agencies that have successfully upgraded their operation through Sprint’s telecom solutions. Once the proposal is accepted, development managers are assigned to oversee training and ensure ongoing support for all personnel.

Stacey Black is vice president of Strategic Programs / Marketing Government Solutions Group for Cingular Wireless. He and his team of telecommunications experts focus on providing local, state, and federal agencies with cost-effective, scalable solutions. According to Black, first contact with AT&T is generally made by a police agency’s communications information tech with a specific need.

This information is routed to an allocations consultant who assembles a team that will make a presentation to the agency. During this exploratory process, they identify existing equipment and look for cost-effective ways to integrate enhancements. For example, an agency that is currently hand-writing tickets may be experiencing a large error rate and might want to consider automated ticketing devices.

With highly diversified experts from each sector of law enforcement, Verizon Wireless offers flexible custom solutions for all levels of government. During initial contact, their focus is on needs analysis and fact gathering in order to determine which technology would be most cost effective.

Potential customers are encouraged to secure references from other agencies that have upgraded their facilities using Verizon solutions. They may also wish to avail themselves of the “30-day test drive” program, which allows an agency to experience the Verizon Wireless network risk free for 30 days. Based on the complexity of the upgrade and/or the size of the agency, Verizon assigns the appropriate team of experts (national or regional).

Once an agency decides on Verizon Wireless, a product management program team is sent in to educate and train the staff. After the initial set-up, ongoing support is available 24/7 to all police personnel. For an officer in the field, it is reassuring to know that at any time of day or night, a support system is just a phonecall away.

In addition, Verizon schedules quarterly meetings with department personnel to assess the cost-effectiveness of the new technology. Administrators can also manage their account online with Verizon’s “My Business” feature, which allows them to view usage and assess spending trends.

For fiscally constrained agencies, Verizon offers various cost-saving solutions, such as unlimited in-calling and bundled minutes. It works with GSA schedules and state contracts to supply the best rate to the government sector. According to Mike Maiorana, vice president of National Government Sales and Operations, Verizon Wireless is dedicated to providing government agencies with the tools they need to do their jobs effectively.

Susan Geoghegan graduated summa cum laude from Florida Gulf Coast University with a B.S. in criminal justice. She has previously been published in LAW and ORDER magazine and can be reached at sgeofl@embarqmail.com.

Published in Law and Order, Jan 2009

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