Canadian crime fighters recruit mobile technology

The City of Hamilton, Ontario’s police force is boosting its bad guy-catching capabilities with a wireless system that brings mug shots and reports right to officers’ patrol cars.

Built on technology from software firm XcelleNet, Nortel Networks, Bell Mobility and others, the system gives Hamilton’s police the information they need to stay on top of crime, affording officers access to e-mail, policies, procedures, and the ability to file reports from their vehicles.

According to Tony Colucci, vice-president of technical services at systems integrator Kilobytes Wireless Data, which built the untethered infrastructure, this platform is meant to help officers guard Hamilton better than they could before.

Previously, computers in police cars presented bullet-point info about 9-1-1 calls, but they weren’t meant for creating reports or accessing rich data. After answering a call for help, officers had to drive to the nearest precinct to file paperwork.

"In the meantime, another call could take place, but they’re out of action," Colucci said. With the new system, "the whole idea is to keep the officer in the geographic location that he or she is responsible for."

Now officers can file reports from their vehicles, call up mug shots on the screen and manage records. "They have more field time available to them," said Domenic Micieli, Kilobytes’s vice-president of business development.

Wireless connectivity between the patrol cars and headquarters also helps IT maintenance for the force. With XcelleNet’s Afaria "frontline management" software, IT staffers can send software patches and upgrades to the vehicle even if it’s on the other side of town.

It’s a far sight better than the previous IT management plan, Colucci said.

"They would have one of the people from the help desk sit at a specific precinct and wait for the cruiser to come in over a 48 hour period on a weekend. And hopefully the car came in long enough for them to pull the notebook out…They were looking at one antivirus and one software patch update for every eight months."

Afaria gives the IT team greater control over digital assets, said Chandra Stevens, channel development manager at XcelleNet.

"Our product allows you to see what’s going on out on the end user’s device. It monitors. It tells you what applications they’re using, if they haven’t used it…You can get a view of the overall performance of the device."

Hamilton’s new system employs IPSec VPNs from Nortel, which help protect transmissions between vehicles and headquarters. Bell Mobility’s 1X cellular service provides connectivity -- a data-enhanced pipe that presents download speeds near 60Kbps. Panasonic Toughbook notebook computers round out the solution. They sit in 115 of Hamilton’s police vehicles, and operate enterprise-class firewalls from Zone Labs to keep data hidden from network snoops.

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Stefan Dubowski

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