Crime fighters recruit mobility

The City of Hamilton, Ont.’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 Inc., Nortel Networks, Bell Mobility and others, the system gives Hamilton’s police the info they need to stay on top of crime in Steeltown, 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 Vaughan, Ont.-based systems integrator Kilobytes Wireless Data, which helped build 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 call up mug shots on the screen and manage records. In the future, they’ll be able to file reports while on the road as well.

“It keeps them on the streets, rather than back at headquarters,” said Ross Memmolo, manager of information services with Hamilton Police Service. “It allows them to respond to calls quicker. It helps them in their day-to-day operational duties. They have access to real-time information. Really, the car’s now an extension of their office.”

Memmolo said the force provides only business apps for the officers.

“Our intranet is available – in- tra-net,” he emphasized. “We certainly don’t allow any Web browsing whatsoever. God knows productivity would probably go right to zero. Intranet gives them access to our internal policies and procedures. It’s a bulletin board with all sorts of information – training material, new releases dictated by policies and procedures.”

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 Alpharetta, Ga.-based 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.”

Memmolo said the police needed Afaria’s functionality to bolster the system’s business case. With just four people on the IT crew, “we had to have a solution that would support administration.”

Hamilton Police Service has other digital plans in store.

“We’re also looking to deploy a browser version of all our documents,” Memmolo said. “We’ve got 25 years of paper, and we’ve started scanning to allow them to have complete access to all police files.”

Memmolo said the force isn’t quite sure how many of the documents it should scan. After all, most officers request info no older than three years. But even this drop in the bucket time-wise could make a big difference in the cost department.

“Asking for these files, as you can imagine it’s a laborious process. We have a civilian staff that has to cater to the officers’ needs. Now [officers] can do it themselves electronically.”

Hamilton’s new system employs IPSec VPNs from Nortel, which help protect transmissions between vehicles and headquarters. Bell Mobility’s 1X mobile network provides connectivity – a data-enhanced pipe that presents download speeds near 60Kbps. The force keeps applications in-house, served to the patrol cars via a Citrix server. 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 Inc. to keep data hidden from network snoops.

How did the force manage so many vendors? Memmolo said he used off-the-shelf technology, help from Kilobytes, his IT team’s expertise, and assurances from Hamilton’s Police Services Board that the brass supported the project, to ensure success.

“I’m a little amazed myself. I guess when you get senior management support, you align yourself with the vision of the business and present a technology solution, it’s amazing what can happen.”