Cops roll out remote patch updates, e-ticketing

The York Regional Police department was drowning in a mess of duplication of effort and unmanaged systems earlier this year, but the force, which patrols an area north of Toronto, was able to get the situation under control and streamline its mobile operations with an implementation of one of Microsoft’s newest offerings, System Center Configuration Manager 2007.

York Region encompasses five municipalities and 1,800 square kilometers, and has been adding hundreds of officers over the last few years. Inspector Heidi Schellhorn said that the community was recently deemed the safest in Canada, a fact that was attributed to the significant police presence, which includes 200 cruisers, a boat and helicopter.

Managing this tech-enabled fleet was a challenge, however, according to Nick Mohamed, information technology assistant manager for the department; they had several stumbling blocks to successfully managing it in a real-time, efficient manner. “We had to stretch from within the [headquarters] walls out to district, and the streets, events, cars, and boats,” said Mohamed.

The internal IT department was suffering from a lack of cohesiveness, said Mohamed. Staff were often working on the same thing, or spending too much time coordinating applications and scrambling to keep tabs on their current infrastructure and back-ups. And, since law enforcement is always evolving with technology and is constantly integrating new, very specific applications into the environment, IT staff were also often struggling to achieve decent interoperability. Said Mohamed: “We were doing too many things, some people were on the same processes—there were too many ways to break it. Our information needed to be secure, predictable and in a stable environment, with governance and quick reporting.

All police vehicles were outfitted with rugged Panasonic laptops running a variety of police-specific programs. This meant that regular check-ups, tech support and upgrades were necessary. Every several months, each cruiser needed to be taken off the streets for two to three hours to run patches and perform maintenance.

To solve these main issues, York Regional turned to Legend Corp., a Toronto-based Microsoft partner who went to work setting up the department with the recently-released System Center Configuration Manager 2007.

The product standardizes system, application and update delivery, which has already yielded some results for the police officers.

“Instead of having those different touch points, there’s a better utilization of staff. That elementary skillset can be consistently delivered on one set of tools and interface,” said Mohamed.

The program pushes out information faster to the vehicles, allowing officers quicker access to important information on the road. E-ticketing is made easier, as licenses can be swiped on the scene and the information immediately backed up into the system. Electronic information is more quickly conveyed and more easily organized on the standardized platform, helping the department on their plan to have paperless police stations. Officers spent more time on the road because they can receive reports electronically instead of showing up for briefings, and they can write up their reports from the console.

According to Derick Wong, Microsoft Canada’s senior product manager for security and management, the product has a simplified interface, an improved asset management module, and, in the case of York Regional, a simplified update manager and remote access update capability. This has allowed the IT staff to start performing maintenance and tech support from afar instead of depriving the region of hundreds of man-hours on the street during routine patch management.

This technology will come in handy with the future release, which contains a lot of rich media, according to Mohamed. The department is working toward being able to send video from the helicopter to cruisers on a regular basis and would use the coordination features of SCCM to achieve this.

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