In less than the length of time it takes a police officer to hit "send" on a computer keyboard and reach for the car door, the officer will have accessed key information about the driver that has been pulled over.
"It's unbelievable — makes life a lot easier on the street," said Herndon Police detective Matt Payne, who has been using the MCT (Mobile Computer Terminal) since December. "I can verify information in a few seconds rather than a few minutes. We can check a drivers' history, see if the vehicle has been stolen or see if the driver has a suspended license. It's extremely simple," he said.
Personnel Training Supervisor Sgt. Phil Farley, a 15-year veteran with the HPD is the project manager for the computer system. "Chief Kranda saw this coming 10 years ago. He wanted to get computers in the cars. He retired before he could see his vision come to fruition," said Farley. "But information was passed onto Chief Summers."
Farley said the HPD spent six years researching new technologies before settling on the MCT and MFR (Mobile Field Reporting) systems purchased from Open Software Solutions, Inc. (OSSI) coming in under the $630,000 amount budgeted by the Town Council.
All 23 police cars can each be equipped with the fully functioning lap tops made by Panasonic. They can be used for beyond dispatching information and report writing and they can also be used out of the cars, said Farley.
"We bought the best that was out there — we were not constrained by budget. If I had a million more dollars, I'd still buy the same product — just more of them," said Farley.
"The Town Council has been really progressive, saw the need and has been very supportive," said HPD Chief Toussaint E. Summers.
"The chief has been ecstatic abut having the system," said Town Councilman William B. "Bill" Tirrell, Sr. "It's an excellent expenditure. It enhances the ability to perform public safety. It's been a long time coming," he said.
"I was supportive of the technology," said Town Councilman Harlon Reece. "It gives the police another tool to perform their job. If it saves one life or catches one criminal, it's money well spent," he said.
Additionally, the new computer system is more user friendly than the previous technology, has greater capabilities and can replace the whole system that the HPD is going away from, said Farley. Crime statistics can be tracked by crime or by district of town. An officer can determine if a person is wanted and will have enhanced abilities to communicate with other officers.
There is hope to integrate the system among law enforcement agencies in Arlington, Alexandria, Fairfax County, Montgomery and Prince George's counties in Maryland and Washington, D.C., said Farley.
While MCT has been deployed since December, Farley is in the process of developing the training for the MFR. Training for that starts in March. Mapping is also coming. With it, directions and crime information can be provided. Photos will be attached to criminal records as well to aid officers.
With the MCT, officers are linked in real time to the police station via Verizon's cellular technology, said Farley. Because the system is data only and not voice, if there were another Sept. 11-type situation, communications would not be lost, said Farley.
"These are faster communications and easier to retrieve information," said Summers. "It will better serve citizens and will provide added safety for the officers. It's the wave of future policing. It's like having a gun — an officer won't go out without their gun," he said.
"It's like giving a guy as bulletproof vest — a must for officers," said Farley.