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3/7/2005
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Jersey City Cops Add Video To Shoe Leather

Handheld computers will let police access data, share information, and connect to video-surveillance cameras in high-crime areas throughout the city.

Since 9/11, the call for law-enforcement agencies to share information has gotten louder. The government has written checks for millions of dollars to fund projects promising local crime fighters and emergency responders access to federal law-enforcement resources, and vice versa. Still, law enforcement has struggled to get this integrated information into the hands of the beat cops who serve as the homeland security effort's most effective eyes and ears.

Beat cops at the Jersey City Police Department in New Jersey walk, bike, and drive over territory that's only a few miles from the footprint of New York's World Trade Center. Memories of the confusion caused on Sept. 11, 2001, by a lack of communication have left an indelible mark that inspired the department to launch a $15 million IT project to implement a high-speed mobile network and deploy handheld computing devices to ensure that every officer has access to critical information in real time.

The department was specifically looking for a way to deliver wireless data to officers without access to patrol cars. About one-third of the city's 930 officers on duty at any given time cover their beats without a patrol car, instead using bicycles, scooters, or shoe leather.

Mobility is nothing new to law enforcement. Many police departments across the country have given their officers wireless laptops for use in patrol cars. But officers operating without patrol cars have had little more than a radio or cell phone to maintain communication with each other and headquarters.

Although the money to fund Jersey City's technology upgrade has been available through federal and municipal funding for this project since 2001, the technology wasn't. "Having lived through 9/11, we knew we had needs that were more than what was available at the time," says John Tkaczyk, a Jersey City patrolman who also serves as the department's MIS director.

"I think the lesson we've learned is that we need to share information in a timely fashion up and down, across municipal, state, and federal agencies," Tkaczyk says. This means setting aside turf issues and sharing access to information. "We've got to be able to share information amongst ourselves as rapidly as possible, and IT allows that to happen."

The department is in the process of deploying Windows-based Symbol Technologies Inc.'s MC9000-K handheld computers running GTBM Inc.'s Info-Cop mobile-information input-and-retrieval software to reach officers en route to emergencies and those conducting field investigations and traffic stops. Sixty handhelds are expected to be deployed by mid-April, with 50 more to be added within the next several months.

The handhelds feature an integrated bar-code scanner, digital camera, digital video camera, and cell phone. Jersey City officers will use these computers running Info-Cop to remotely access information needed during investigations, including license-plate numbers, criminal histories, and outstanding warrants. Although Jersey City officers have for years been able to tap into municipal, state, and national law-enforcement databases, including those run by the FBI and the New Jersey Department of Motor Vehicles, Info-Cop lets them do this work from the field without the need for a desktop or a laptop PC.

The Symbol devices will also let officers tap into existing video-surveillance cameras stationed throughout Jersey City. Such video is available to officers at police headquarters, but there was no way to share this information with field officers. "We want to be able to stream citywide video down to our officers in the field," Tkaczyk says.

Police have already set up video-surveillance cameras in high-crime areas throughout the city and plan to expand this network to cover the city's business districts and some residential areas. "We hope to some day have every block in the city covered," Tkaczyk says. By sending streaming surveillance video to officers en route to an emergency, those officers have time to assess the situation before they arrive, Tkaczyk adds.

The Police Department has since January been using Verizon's high-speed cellular 1X network to deliver broadband data access to patrol cars and is making this network available to handheld computer users as well. In addition to the Symbol handhelds, Jersey City is phasing in a new radio system to take advantage of the wireless network. The Police Department's long-term goal is to create a network upon which all of its user devices, including radios, handheld computers, PCs, and cell phones, can communicate.

Says Tkaczyk, "If we can't talk to each other, how are we going to present a unified front against the threat of terrorism, natural disasters, or even just a normal street crime?"

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