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Technology at the 2003 IACP

Written by Tim Dees

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Chiefs and other administrators look forward to the annual IACP show for the workshops and the networking with other executives. Police equipment and service vendors look forward to what the IACP calls the “technology exposition,” or the trade show, that being the Big Kahuna for public safety vendors.

If there was any one technology that stood out this year, it was in-car or patrol video. Most of the major vendors in this market, and some new ones, have introduced all-digital video systems intended to replace the tape-based units now in use in most areas of the country. Digital video has some distinct advantages over tape-based analog systems, most of which use VHS cassettes for recording. 

One plus is that video segments are instantly available without having to rewind or fast-forward a tape. This applies whether the segment is being viewed in the patrol car or from a server in the police station or courtroom.  Some systems can even continue to record while a segment on the same storage medium is being reviewed. 

Another advantage is that the storage medium is considerably less volatile, not being as sensitive to external magnetic fields as tape. Hard disk drives are less likely to be damaged by a magnetic field, and optical disks (CD-ROM and recordable DVDs) aren’t bothered at all. These disks also take up less room when archived, and hold nearly as much video as a standard VHS tape. The data files that contain the video and audio can also link many other data sources, such as output from traffic radar, brake sensors, emergency light and siren switches, and GPS units, appending this data to every frame of video recorded. 

But the real “oh, wow” aspect of digital video is what is most often called “pre-event recording.” Just about every officer who has run a tape-based patrol video system has wished that the system was turned on when he saw a car run a red light or the drunk driver in front of him cross into the oncoming lanes. Most departments don’t have the systems in record mode all of the time, so those details get missed. 

The majority of the digital video systems are always in a kind of passive recording mode, saving the output from the camera to a memory chip. The capacity of the system is determined by the size of the memory on the chip and the quality of the video that is being sent to it. In most cases, the last 10 to 60 seconds of video is always available. When an officer puts the system into “record” mode, the video on the memory chip is dumped to the recording medium, so that the effect is as if the officer had pushed the record button 10 to 60 seconds earlier.  The recording actually shows what happened 10 to 60 seconds before the button was pushed. 

Every manufacturer seems to have a slightly different approach to digital video. Some products record onto a hard drive, some onto an optical disk, and at least one onto a digital tape (and several offer options to do any of these). Some systems are based on a “sneakernet” where the hard drives, tapes or optical disks are hand-carried into the station for storage and archiving. Others use a wireless or hardwired network to send the video from the car to the storage unit with little or no intervention by the officer. And some systems include a server to manage and index the stored and archived video, where others leave this to the user. It’s a complex topic, but one we at LAW and ORDER have been working on for the past year. 

Within the next few issues, you will see a comprehensive review of patrol video technology, with hands-on reviews of systems that we have been testing with the help of some cooperative law enforcement agencies. For that reason, we won’t go into the specifics in this article, but know that the information is coming. 

That said, take a look at some of the other new and improved technologies that were showcased at the 2003 IACP show in Philadelphia. 

Watson Ticketing

Management of traffic citation information is usually a paperwork quagmire, with information that has to be transcribed from paper forms to computer-readable data, and then back again. Watson Ticketing uses a handheld Pocket PC and browser-based tables to all but eliminate the paperwork from this process and save on administrative costs. 

Traffic officers use a Pocket PC handheld computer equipped with a wireless transceiver to record the citation data. Entering the vehicle license number automatically generates a query for registration information and wants, and the information contained in the response populates the citation form displayed on the handheld. A similar process occurs when the violator’s driver’s license information is entered onto the form. 

Violation types are entered from a drop-down list, so there is no confusion with misapplied traffic violation codes or mismatched captions and section numbers. The location of the violation can be entered manually, or from a “favorites” list created and maintained by the user. When needed, the amount of the fine or bail can be retrieved from a database and entered on the form, as is the court appearance data and location. 

When the citation is complete, the violator uses the officer’s stylus to sign his name across the Pocket PC’s display panel. The signature is captured and recorded with the citation data. The officer then walks back to the patrol car, tears off a printed copy of the citation from a printer mounted inside (the information for the citation has already been wirelessly transmitted to the car), and gives the hard copy to the violator. 

Once the process is complete, the officer can dictate a note that will be attached to the citation record, using the voice recorder contained in the handheld computer. The officer could even use this feature to record the conversation between him and the violator. 

Information from the citations is immediately appended to the traffic citation database, which is available to both police and court officials. Graphic maps show numbers and types of citations issued in designated patrol zones, and be can configured to show specific types of citations, accidents, violations based on time of day, and other displays. Information contained in tables is similarly customizable and sortable for easy information retrieval. 

Court officials can retrieve any information needed from the computer display, and can enter dispositions directly into the database. The end result is a traffic records system that is almost paperless and is constantly up to date. DataDriven, LLC can furnish literature and a demo CD containing video clips of the Watson Ticketing process. 

TicketTrack and VideoTrack

If your traffic citation problems have more to do with accountability than paper flow, Custom Data Solutions offers a system called TicketTrack. TicketTrack is a bar code-based tracking system designed to provide accountability for traffic citations and reduce or eliminate ticket “fixing.” Citation books and individual citations and forms are scanned and recorded in a central, tamper-proof database, so that every citation is accounted for.  A similar system, VideoTrack, provides accountability for videotapes used in patrol video systems. 

ALERTS Telephone Call-Out Network

Public safety agencies are often required to maintain multiple call-out and notification lists for specific emergencies, whether they are officer-involved accidents and shootings, hazardous materials incidents, or generic public relations disasters. Manual dialing of these lists is incredibly time-consuming, especially now that people have multiple telephone numbers for their home and business phones, pagers, cell phones, fax machines and the like. Even when the person tasked with this unpleasant chore manages to reach the desired individuals, he often can’t tell them any more than “come in” or “stand by and wait for another call from the boss.”

ADTEC, an Australian-based communications company, is offering a solution in the form of ALERTS, an acronym for ADTEC Limited Emergency Response Telephone System. ALERTS uses ADTEC’s TeleBridge Connect system, a separate controller, and a conventional personal computer to automate the call-out process and locate every member on the designated call list. The system then delivers a pre-recorded message, or automatically adds each member to a live teleconference. 

Team leaders authorized to initiate a call-out can use any telephone to connect with ALERTS. Security is maintained with PINs that are confidential to each user. Once a connection is established, the leader selects the appropriate pre-designated call-out list, chooses the desired action (whether to deliver a recorded message or to conference in the list member), and lets the system do its work. 

Each member of the call-out list can have as long a list of contact numbers as might be necessary. Once a call is answered, another PIN entry is required to deliver the pre-recorded message or add the member to the conference. This feature is used to ensure that the correct person is reached and that the message is not delivered to an unauthorized person. 

ADTEC speeds the call-out process by “blast-dialing” multiple numbers at one time, making the most of available telephone resources and freeing up personnel for other tasks. ADTEC claims that the system can complete 400 telephone calls in less than 90 seconds, and can be expanded by adding telephone lines and corresponding “line cards” to interface with them. The system represents a cost-effective alternative to conference calling services and manpower-intensive communications crews. The system can be purchased outright or obtained as a service bureau. 

3G Wireless Data

Virtually every provider of wireless data services, which means most cellular telephone companies, are rolling out 3G (for “third generation”) data systems that will provide bandwidth similar to that available on a hardwired data network. Lucent Technologies, Sprint, AT&T Wireless, Verizon, Nextel and others are all working to build out their 3G networks to provide seamless coverage across the United States and beyond. 

3G networks have substantially more carrying capacity than existing digital or analog networks, so they can provide very fast text-based data and limited video and audio feeds. Where existing wireless data networks can deliver the demographic information contained in a driver’s license file, a 3G network will be able to transmit and display a color image of the driver’s license itself, complete with photo and signature. 

Urban centers that have the largest customer base will be the first to get the cellular-based 3G networks, and they are already available in many cities. But users of second generation digital cellular networks know that even those systems do not provide coast-to-coast coverage, and the only available service in some areas is still analog-based (where there is any at all). Because of the expense of these networks, and the low demand for services in rural areas, 3G networks may not be available everywhere for some years to come.   

Many agencies that based their data networks on CDPD (Cellular Digital Packet Data) technology are finding themselves shut out as CDPD systems are gradually closed down in favor of 3G. Outfits that invested in CDPD hardware are understandably unhappy about this change, and are wondering if they are only setting themselves up for another round of obsolescence by adopting 3G solutions. Other non-cellular companies are attempting to exploit this opportunity by offering alternative wireless solutions based on a combination of technologies that are independent of the cellular networks. 

For example, MeshNetworks works on what amounts to a wireless wide-area network (WAN) that can be built onto utility poles, rooftops and even individual vehicles used as relay stations. Mobile Satellite Ventures owns its own geosynchronous satellites that communicate with their hardware anywhere in North America that one can see the sky. 

There are so many choices available that the administrator who has to make a commitment to one network type over another is essentially taking a gamble not only that the chosen technology remains effective, but also that the provider doesn’t get forced out of business by the competition. 

CODY Digital Law Enforcement

CODY introduced its new data-sharing package for law enforcement agencies needing to communicate with one another’s databases, but who have dissimilar records systems. Called COBRA, for Cody Online Basic Regional Access, this system will work with virtually any existing ODBC-compliant records system. COBRA is intended for situations where a relatively small geographic area is served by multiple law enforcement agencies, each of which maintains its own warrant files and other records needed by street officers. 

An offender wanted by one jurisdiction can escape arrest by simply avoiding officers from that department, even though he may be operating only a short distance away. COBRA serves to bridge these systems and make the information available to all participants, and without each agency having to convert its records system or “buy into” a central records database. 

The system is updated in real time, so a warrant that is cleared will not show as active, even if the inquiry is made only a short time later. This is an important factor for agencies concerned with civil actions based on wrongful arrest. The system is also fully scalable to any degree. CODY claims that any two databases in the United States could be connected with a maximum of six “hops” between networks. 

The speed of the system is limited only by the bandwidth of the slowest network involved in the inquiry and response transaction. Where state laws permit, officers in the field can “drill down” into a table of returned information to see more detail on the warrant or record displayed. 

Visteon

Visteon has been busy this last year, improving its integrated system of patrol car electronics and communications systems. Visteon is an automotive company that concentrates on the interior of the vehicle, streamlining the interaction of the various components and making them more ergonomically usable and convenient for the driver and passengers. Its public safety product is called TACNET™. 

The most evident manifestation of this technology in the patrol car is the way that the interior is far less crowded with control heads and panels. Except for the multifunction computer display mounted on the dashboard, the interior of a TACNET-equipped patrol car is not noticeably different from a stock vehicle. Closer inspection reveals a control pod mounted on the console between the seats, a transparent index card-sized heads-up display stuck to the windshield in front of the driver, and video cameras and radar antennas mounted on the headliner. 

Two other major features of TACNET are less obvious. One is that the police-specific components of the car actually work together. Virtually all functions of the car can be controlled from the computer display, which is touch-sensitive. The display changes to a different configuration, depending on the use at the time, with on-screen “buttons” controlling functions. 

For instance, the two-way radio’s volume, channel setting, scanner mode and other functions are all controlled from this display. A different screen shows the controls for the emergency lights and siren, with several presets of light and siren combinations available instantly. The patrol video system is run from this display, and also shows the image from the camera or played back from the recorder here. Traffic radar output is displayed here, and is integrated with the video system, so the speed of the target and patrol vehicle are shown on the recorded video image if desired. 

The heads-up display shows critical data to the driver without the driver having to take his eyes off the road. The type of data displayed changes depending on the mode of the vehicle. While driving, it might show the output of the traffic radar system, but while on a traffic stop, the text returns from an NCIC query. 

The real gee-whiz feature, however, is the voice interface system. Most of the functions of the TACNET cockpit can be controlled without touching the computer display at all. When the voice interface is activated from the control pod mounted between the front seats, nearly all functions will respond to voice commands. This system works better than most computer-voice interfaces, as it does not require any “training” to be able to recognize commands spoken by people with dissimilar voices or regional accents. The system is presently in use by the California Highway Patrol and Michigan State Police, which had their demonstration vehicles and operators at the show. 

NetDelivery

There are a number of computer-based report writing systems on the market, but many are dependent on a wireless network. Departments without a wireless network, which are still most of them, are largely excluded from this market. NetDelivery’s FormStream is a browser-based system of forms that are customizable by the user, and can be used in either a wireless networked environment or on stand-alone computers on desktops or in cars. 

FormStream allows users to create their own forms, so an agency adopting this system doesn’t have to change its forms system to match the software. The program supports output from Adobe Acrobat or OmniForm, both of which convert paper forms into versions that can be completed on a computer. When information for the report is available from a networked CAD system, the software will extract the relevant data from the CAD record and use it to populate the report form blanks. 

Departments that don’t have a mobile data system can still use FormStream. In these instances, officers record their files onto a floppy disk, and then transfer the files from the floppy onto the NetDelivery server when they reach the station. Settings in the program associate each officer with the appropriate supervisor or other report reviewer, so when that person logs on to the system, he will see if there are reports awaiting approval. If a report is returned to the officer for some kind of deficiency, the officer will get a similar notice when he logs on to the system. 

Even if a report has not been approved, the information in the report is available to selected users on the NetDelivery server. For instance, an officer might complete a report on a high-profile case and then go off duty.  The report might contain some minor deficiencies, but still have information useful to detectives and the department’s PIO. Under some systems, the report would be unavailable until it had been fully approved and the deficiencies corrected. Under FormStream, the entire report is available, with the deficiencies flagged so that possible erroneous data is highlighted. 

FormStream reduces the number of errors in reports by incorporating field data validation and pop-up help. For instance, if a field requires both a time and a date, the program will not accept the entry until all of this information is entered. Drop-down lists are used for forced choices when data consistency is critical. 

When a wireless network is available from the patrol vehicle, FormStream can transmit a preliminary identification report to a booking office before the officer arrives with the prisoner, speeding the booking process. The software also tracks individuals due to appear in court, and notifies the appropriate prosecutor if a witness has been jailed, so that the necessary arrangements can be made to get them into court when needed. 

FormStream incorporates a security feature called DigiSeal. When a report file is saved for review by a supervisor, DigiSeal creates a code based on the “hash value” of the file. Any change in the file will alter this hash value and cause an alarm to appear when the DigiSeal record is checked. This keeps unauthorized persons from entering any changes to the report, while still making the report available for read-only review to a larger group of users. 

Centurion Wireless Security Systems

StopTech, the same company that produces the Stop Stick® tire deflation device, has expanded into a new market with a portable alarm system intended for use by law enforcement. The Centurion Scout™ is a portable, wireless security system that can be deployed at nearly any location in a few minutes, and then retrieved just as quickly for use at another site. The system is contained in a shock- and water-resistant Pelican® case, and consists of several transmitters and a central receiver device. 

Each transmitter is activated by a duress button, a motion detector, or other sensors such as a smoke detector, glass break detector, bill trap or temperature sensor. The user deploying the alarm units programs a unique code into each one, and can also record a voice message that will be transmitted if the alarm is triggered. The central control unit records each alarm trip (and stores up to 200 events, each with a text message of up to 80 characters), but the transmitters also send the unique voice message to standard two-way radios. 

Instead of having to keep a dispatcher or other alarm monitor on duty to oversee the system, officers within the operational area of the Centurion system will hear a message over their radios that gives the precise location and nature of the alarm. This could be an extremely useful tool when a threat against a specific target is received.  Officers who would be stationed at the scene on surveillance can instead go about their regular duties, and be alerted instantly if the alarm is tripped. If there is already voice traffic over the radio circuit, the voice alarm will stand by its transmission until the channel is clear. 

The system will operate from a self-contained battery, from an automobile battery circuit, or from a wall socket.  If the external power source fails, the internal battery will take over, and will recharge when external power is restored. The internal battery will function on its own for up to 40 hours. The central unit periodically polls each remote transmitter to ensure that it is still in range and that its own battery has a charge. If a unit fails to respond or sends a low battery warning, the event is recorded. Centurion will interface with a standard PC through a serial, USB, Ethernet or modem connection. The system can also be set to operate up to four external systems, such as lights or video cameras, when activated. 

Xtra Duty

Compensation for police work varies tremendously across the country, and until the pay gets considerably better for officers at the lower end of the scale, off duty employment will continue to be a reality. There is no standard for the way these arrangements are handled. In some situations, the officers are considered private contractors who market their services to individual businesses, and are sometimes paid “off the books.” Other departments schedule their officers for the off duty or “pay job” assignments, collect the fees from the employers, and pay the officers through the usual payroll channels. 

Departments that handle the assignments and payroll through their internal administration are often troubled by conflicts over fairness in assignments, schedules that clash with regular law enforcement duties, and uncollectible accounts from deadbeat employers. JivaSoft, a company known primarily for scheduling software, has created a package called Xtra Duty that is specifically designed for management of outside employment schedules in law enforcement. 

Xtra Duty ensures that assignments are offered and made fairly, according to rules established by the user.  Because some assignments are considered to be more lucrative and desirable than others, this feature alone could reduce dissension within the ranks. The software can be set to pay for itself by automating the collection of administrative fees from employers, based on a percentage of wages, hours billed, per-job or some combination of these factors. Invoices for completed jobs are created automatically, as are reminders for previous bills and unpaid invoices. Payroll information can be exported directly into most computer-based payroll systems, or input manually from a report printed from the program. 

 

Tim Dees is a former officer who writes and consults about applications of technology in law enforcement. He can be reached at (509) 585-6704 or by e-mail at tim@timdees.com.


Published in Law and Order, Feb 2004

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ADTECAT&T WirelessCody SystemsCustom Data SolutionsDataDriven, LLCLucent TechnologiesNextelShopTechSprintVerizonVisteonWatson Ticketing
 

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CDPD (Cellular Digital Packet Data)Centurion ScoutCOBRAGraphic mapshandheld computerManagement of traffic citation informationNetDeliveryTicketTrackVisteon TACNET
 

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