Officers are OnPatrol with xwave

Halifax-based xwave, an Aliant Inc. company, is currently testing a mobile wireless solution dedicated to giving police officers in the field access to data over a secure network.

The company announced the existence of OnPatrol at the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police conference in Saskatoon in August. OnPatrol, which uses a Waterloo, Ont.-based Research In Motion Ltd. BlackBerry handheld device and operates on both the Bell Mobility and Rogers AT&T Wireless networks, is being tested by the New Westminster Police Service in New Westminster, B.C.

According to John Taker, xwave’s director, public safety group in Ottawa, OnPatrol will allow officers to update their status, send and receive messages, query police databases and be dispatched, all without the need to phone into the police department.

“The ability to query police databases. . .is probably the most practical, and we expect it to be the most widely-used, function,” Taker said.

The company specializes in providing devices, such as ROADS (Remote Office and Dispatch System), which is installed in Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) cars and acts as a portable office and dispatch system, to the public safety sector. While ROADS uses laptops, OnPatrol is xwave’s first system that uses a handheld device.

Taker said the BlackBerry device was chosen because of its always-on, always-connected status through an embedded modem and antenna. He added that the full keyboard, rather than a stylus, fits nicely with the needs of an officer in the field.

Through testing, Taker said response time to queries over the networks is about five to 10 seconds. He added that there are no guarantees for quality of service because they are public networks.

“It’s been our experience in the past that the kind of service that’s being provided is adequate. In fact, it’s more than adequate,” Taker said. Xwave’s other mobile public safety solutions run on the same networks as OnPatrol.

According to Deputy Chief Constable Mike Judd at the New Westminster Police Service, the department is just about to kick off its pilot of the OnPatrol service, which will allow five or six members of the police service to use the handheld devices. The ROADS system is currently installed in New Westminster patrol vehicles.

“From our point of view, it was kind of a natural evolution and a logical extension of where we’re going technology-wise in our organization,” Judd said. He added that he is optimistic about OnPatrol and said the solution should save time because of its immediate accessibility, and will increase the efficiency of field officers using it.

Officers currently have two choices for getting information from headquarters: radioing in to an operator or using ROADS, the latter only available to officers with patrol vehicles.

One big concern is security. Imagine the information available if the OnPatrol BlackBerry device was to fall into the wrong hands. And because of the size of the devices, they can be easily lost or left behind, Taker said.

“If that’s the case, you just call the dispatch centre and say my device has been lost and we will issue a command that. . .will essentially wipe out all the software so it can’t be re-used,” he said. “So in the event in the off-chance that it fell into the wrong hands, within a matter of seconds, it would be destroyed.”

So if you find one of these things, you can forget about checking to see if that guy your sister is dating has a criminal record.

OnPatrol has also been outfitted with 128-bit end-to-end encryption to keep curious parties from snooping on the transmissions, Taker said.

According to Taker, the testing program in New Westminster will take about three months and then xwave expects to make the product available for general use.

xwave can be found on the Web at www.xw