Cops in the Field Rely on Toughbooks, Galaxy Tabs
By Jessica Binns
When Virginia’s Newport News Police Department found itself with outdated in-vehicle mobile technology on its hands, it called on CDW-G, a provider of IT solutions and services to state, local, and federal governments, to suggest ideas for a much-needed upgrade.
CDW-G set up several test vehicles equipped with different devices and allowed Newport News officers to try them out and determine which ones they preferred. The solution: Panasonic Toughbook CF30 and CF31 rugged notebooks running Citrix XenApp, which give officers quick remote access to critical applications and databases.
CDW-G worked with Accelera Solutions, a Citrix partner, to set up the app, and tapped software solutions provider Intergraph to deploy a records management system on the back end. According to Juan Luna, business analyst for Newport News Police Department, the city previously relied on mainframes, but those became too expensive. Intergraph offered an off-the-shelf records management product – and provided the service of moving all of the data from the old mainframes onto the new system.
Luna says the new records database supports not only the police department but also the local jail and City Farm – a correction facility that houses low-threat prisoners. This is critical because officers in the field who are searching for a suspect’s name can simply pull up one database instead of searching in three, which saves time in the long run.
Prior to installing the Toughbook-based solution, officers in the field relied on Wi-Fi for remote connectivity, says Luna. With the rugged laptops’ embedded modem and connectivity via Verizon Wireless aircards, officers have “a bigger tunnel” through which to send and receive data. “Officers can make an arrest, fill out their report, make up a diagram of an accident and import it into the system, and it’s instantly available to records staff,” explains Luna, adding that officers can now easily upload photos as well.
What’s more, the department uses restricted aircards, so that users can’t access everything on the Internet. For security reasons, adds Luna, many Web sites are blocked. But if an officer needs to use a particular site, it’s easy to grant access. “Citrix enables more flexibility for us from an IT standpoint. We can enable access to sites in 30 minutes or less to all users,” explains Luna. “It’s very seamless behind the scenes.”
So far, the officers like using the Toughbooks – mostly because a lot of their procedures are the same. “We found that if you put Microsoft Office and other basic software on the device and use Citrix for everything else, it’s a lot easier to access the rest of your apps,” says Luna. “You’re using less resources and it adds to the lifetime of the device because you’re reducing wear and wear over its lifetime.”
4G, video surveillance, and Galaxy Tabs
Verizon Wireless is bringing its LTE network to Newport News on Oct. 21, says Luna, which will help to improve the speed of downloading data, sending large files, and especially using video.
The department’s surveillance unit relies heavily on video, explains Luna, so much so that it has its own network for video transmission “because they could bring down our whole network.”
The surveillance unit is piloting 7-in. Samsung Galaxy Tabs equipped with the Citrix app for secure remote access and 3G connectivity. Detectives have been testing the tablets for two to three months, Luna reports, to see how useful the devices could be in their daily jobs. “You have to see if you can support that cost logistically because it’s like buying another cell phone,” explains Luna.
Beyond Citrix, the only other app on the tablets is Google Translate, which helps officers to quickly communicate with persons for whom English is not a first language. The application handles voice input and also translates from text to speech. This allows officers to gather important information even before a department translator arrives on site.
A deterrent to crime
Newport News and CDW-G are conducting the Toughbook deployment in phases and will outfit more than 60 vehicles when the project is completed. “If you replace all mobile devices at the same time, they might all break at the same time. We’re doing a slow rollout,” explains Luna.
As an added bonus, officers with the upgraded platform can now view department policies and participate in online training in their vehicles if they need to. Prior to the upgrade, officers couldn’t even access their e-mail remotely, says Luna.
“We’re providing officers in the field with reliable resources; they essentially have a virtual office in their cars,” says Luna. “If they’re out in the field more, they’re acting as a deterrent to crime.”