Info-Sharing, Toughbooks Improve Safety for Texas Cops
By Jessica Binns
In the Texas Panhandle, 26 counties are spread out over nearly 26,000 square miles. Space is plentiful and people—roughly 430,000—are relatively few. Policing such a large area can be a challenge, and the 40 law enforcement agencies housed in the Panhandle found themselves with a need to enhance officer security and better equip personnel with real-time information—all on a limited budget.
Enter the federal government. With close to $1 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds and a $300,000 grant from the Department of Homeland Security, the 40 agencies worked in tandem with CDW-G
—a provider of technology solutions to government, education, and healthcare enterprises—to develop the three-phase Panhandle Regional Information and Data Exchange (PRIDE) initiative.
In the first phase of PRIDE, CDW-G worked with the agencies to outfit 250 officer vehicles with Toughbook CF30 and CF31 rugged laptops for real-time information access. The next step involved building a shared database of warrants and other infraction information, and the last piece called for developing a networked infrastructure and regional data hub to enable access to state and national law enforcement databases.
David Hutchins, director of state and local government sales for CDW-G, says that getting such a large number of jurisdictions to work together and figure out funding for this type of project is a significant challenge.
Prior to PRIDE, mobile technology wasn’t deployed in each of the 40 Panhandle law enforcement agencies; some had experience with mobile devices but many of the smaller ones did not. Access to information was often inconsistent. Many officers relied on mobile data terminals or regularly called into dispatch for information in the field.
James Brown, CIO for the City of Amarillo, says that his team evaluated a number of potential devices—including rugged devices, non-rugged laptops, and data terminals—and the Toughbook emerged as the clear choice. “Our partners [in the 40 agencies] had used a smorgasboard of devices, and everyone like their own devices, but the Toughbook choice was unanimous,” he explains. “All of the law enforcement agencies knew Toughbooks from prior experience and were comfortable with them.
“It’s industry standard,” Brown continues. “Toughbooks are reliable, give scalability and protect our investment.”
Wireless connectivity in the Panhandle is reasonably good, given the flat, largely uninterrupted terrain, but in remote areas of the counties, there often isn’t a lot of infrastructure. Brown says CDW-G helped to identify solutions to ensure seamless connectivity. The PRIDE team currently is evaluating a Rocket mobile communications appliance from Utility that enables broadband Internet, Wi-Fi host connectivity, and high-speed wireless data client upload capabilities.
Because the PRIDE initiative involved so many different types of officer vehicles—from Crown Victoria to Chevy Tahoes to Ford F150s—and antenna and mounting requirements, Brown and CDW-G spent a significant amount of time configuring the complete solution to be flexible to the capabilities of each vehicle. As such, the group selected a number of different Toughbook vehicle mounts and antennas to deploy across all 40 agencies.
CWD-G brought NetMotion Wireless on board to help with remote connection design, says Brown. “They helped us through the architecture of the way we were designing the connection. It’s easy to make a solution like this more complicated than it needs to be,” he explains. “We as geeks think the most complicated thing is the best thing. NetMotion helped us keep that in mind.”
The City of Amarillo took the lead on developing and hosting the database and data hub. Now officers have access to outstanding warrants and other information at their fingertips when they’re on patrol. “Before, they had no idea who they were dealing with when they pulled a car over way out in the county,” adds Brown. “We’ve heard from chiefs and sheriffs that PRIDE is helping out a great deal.”