Putting laptops and databases on the beat

Leicestershire Constabulary is taking police communications into the 21st century with state-of-the-art notebook computers that provide officers in the field with 24-hour access to exactly the same information as their colleagues back in the station. It is being described as the biggest step forward since the introduction of the two-way radio 40 years ago.

Feb 19, 2009
By Paul Jacques
South Yorkshire Police Chief Constable Lauren Poultney with Chief Inspector Jayne Forrest and OK9 Wellbeing dog Buddy with their Leadership award.

Leicestershire Constabulary is taking police communications into the 21st century with state-of-the-art notebook computers that provide officers in the field with 24-hour access to exactly the same information as their colleagues back in the station. It is being described as the biggest step forward since the introduction of the two-way radio 40 years ago.

Until recently, laptop computers were not really considered tough enough or durable enough for regular use in the field by the emergency services. However, Leicestershire Constabulary has been pioneering the use of the latest hi-tech ‘rugged’ laptops as a mobile communications tool among the force.

“The truth is that police communications had not moved on a great deal since the introduction of the two-way radio 40 years ago,” explained Leicestershire`s Chief Superintendent Jason Masters.

Officers now have mobile phones and the majority of forces have started using Blackberries and personal digital assistants (PDAs) backed by government funding – with the Government setting a target of 10,000 mobile data devices to be in use throughout the country’s police forces by October 2009. But while these ‘smartphones’ are a useful tool for officers on the beat, they are limited to around five or six software applications.

Chief Supt Masters was aware of how organisations such as the fire brigade were starting to use in-vehicle laptops and with government funding available, his force took the decision to implement a similar solution throughout its fleet of nearly 300 vehicles.

Several benefits

With wireless connectivity and rugged portability, there were several significant benefits to be had from a demountable laptop that would allow officers patrolling neighbourhoods access to the software applications found on their desktop computers.

The most immediate one was that vehicles would no longer need to return to base so that officers could complete crime or incident reports.

“There was a huge saving in time and resources to be made,” said Inspector Sanjiv Pattani, Leicestershire`s mobile information project manager. “Having this facility would cut down the bureaucracy enormously. Previously, creating a full crime report could take between five and seven days and would involve clerical staff to fill in and scan up to ten paper-based forms. With a vehicle-based laptop, one officer can complete all paperwork in a very short time without clerical support – and without even leaving the vehicle.”

An independent work study conducted by Leicestershire Constabulary showed that its officers spent on average 30 per cent of their time back in police stations completing paperwork. The CF19 Toughbook platform from Panasonic delivers a mobile office environment that has already saved thousands of hours of officers’ time, which is being reinvested in patrol time in neighbourhoods.

Chief Supt Masters said that the total hours saved and additional visibility gained since implementing laptops is already equal to the visibility provided by an additional 200 officers. “Mobile working out on patrol means that every officer is able to concentrate on the important job of fighting crime.”

Insp Pattani explained that the Panasonic demountable system replicates the entire suite of about 70 software applications available back at the station. “So not only would officers patrolling neighbourhoods have instant access to an enormous variety of up-to-the-minute databases and other vital information, it also meant that they required very little training with the CF-19s. They could be up and running after just a few minutes.”

In the dock

The vehicle dock allows the laptop to be mounted vertically against the dashboard, making it easy to read the screen and operate the keyboard. It also protects the CF-19 and allows quick undocking and re-docking.

Each Toughbook can easily be removed and taken onto premises where incidents have occurred. Communication between the

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