The Wilson signal boosters enable deputies to use on-board computers and cellular modems to access the department's computer network and search for needed information or file reports directly from their patrol vehicles, even in remote areas of the county.
"Under the direction of Sheriff Steve Waugh, YCSO has been committed providing the latest mobile data technology to its deputies, and the Wilson signal boosters have been a critical component in allowing this process to move forward," says Dwight D'Evelyn, YCSO Media/Crime Prevention Coordinator.
While in-vehicle computers and cellular modems are standard equipment for many law enforcement agencies across the U.S., making the department's mobile data computing project (MDCP) work in Yavapai County was a challenge. The county covers 8,100 square miles, an area larger than several U.S. states, lying between suburban Phoenix and the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Topography includes Sonoran desert and mountains rising nearly 8,000 feet.
Before the MDCP was implemented, deputies took handwritten notes during investigations and then drove to the nearest substation, often 80 or 100 miles away, to log into the computer system, according to Lt. Brian Hunt, Technical Services Bureau commander for the Sheriff's Office.
"If we need to look something up online, now our people have the resources of the office in their vehicles," Hunt says. "This has cut down on 'windshield time' (driving) and allowed more time for investigations and other law enforcement activity."
As the department researched the feasibility of implementing the MCDP, field testing confirmed that the cellular signal in many areas of the county was too weak to allow in-vehicle modems to reliably connect with the department's computer system, Hunt says. To solve that problem, the department installed Wilson boosters and antennas to detect and amplify faint cellular signals.
The payoff has been clear and immediate.
"We had a recent search and rescue operation in an area where the searching units had no cellular coverage according to their handheld devices," Hunt says. "But with the air-cards in our vehicles, responding deputies had service through the Wilson booster and were able to instant message and stay in contact with the communications center."
The department also experienced another unexpected benefit.
"We're realizing that this project has reduced deputies' response times," Hunt says. "I was hearing in a community meeting people raving about how quickly our deputies are able to respond to calls. Deputies assigned to an area now have immediate access to the computer system, so they can stay closer to where they need to be."