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Fresno Police Department Expands Its Data-Communications Capabilities

New system will let emergency first-responders transmit and receive text, images, and video.

In the next 90 days, the city of Fresno, Calif., will begin deploying a new data-communications system to link police, fire, ambulance, and other emergency first-responders via the Web.

Like most police departments, Fresno already has a data-communications system in place. But the current 800-MHz system from Dataradio Inc. lacks encryption capability and is too slow to handle new data types like video, says Pat Rhames, a captain at the Fresno Police Department. "We're interested in adding a system that has more throughput capacity that will take care of what we currently cannot do," he says.

Fresno is building the new data-communications platform using equipment from Alvarion Ltd. and IBM's WebSphere Everyplace Connection Manager software. The system will use 900-MHz radio technology and transmission towers to allow police officers and headquarters to send and receive text, images, and video via "in-vehicle" computers and handheld PDAs. These capabilities are particularly useful when downloading mug shots and live streaming video of suspects in developing police situations, Rhames says. It also will let officers transmit crime-scene images back to headquarters, access law-enforcement databases, and file police reports.

Fresno is building the new data-communications platform on top of its existing system. "It seems to be a relatively unique situation with us as compared to other departments because we are able to build a new system without having to tear down our existing one, and still have the mobile units communicate seamlessly on either of those two networks," Rhames says. "This is a huge advantage when it comes to putting this kind of network together."

The first phase of the deployment, which will equip police cruisers covering 50% of the city, is funded by a $750,000 grant from the federal Department of Justice, Community Oriented Policing Services. The next phase, in addition to covering the rest of the city, also will extend the network to police motorcycles, detective vehicles, and helicopters, Rhames says.

IBM also will provide broadband wireless communication for the computer terminals in Fresno's 250 police cruisers. "We're very excited," Rhames says. "It will allow us to conduct the amount of data communication that we're currently doing, correct the problem of being overloaded, and allow us to put additional data traffic on the network that we cannot do at this point."

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