The results of a pilot program being conducted at Pennsylvania College of Technology will benefit Lycoming County and its municipal police departments. Penn College Police vehicles are equipped with laptop computer equipment providing immediate access to the Pennsylvania Justice Network while officers are on patrol.
With the JNET database, vital information is just a keystroke away. JNET has 21,000 users including 38 federal agencies, 33 state agencies, all 67 counties and hundreds of municipal agencies.
Driver’s-license information and photos, vehicle registration, criminal history, probation and parole records, “mug” shots, and arrest warrants are just a few of the many items that can be checked immediately with the in-car laptops, allowing police to confirm identities and even issue citations on the spot for traffic infractions.
While state police already have laptops in their vehicles, Penn College is the first Lycoming County police department to use the in-car computers. Penn College equipped three patrol vehicles with laptops and the associated equipment for the project. It also provided a laptop unit to the county for further testing.
In addition to the JNET database, patrolling Penn College Police officers can access the college computer network’s student database, as well as obtain information about college facilities and use the college’s employee e-mail program. This allows the officers to get the information they need without leaving the streets and returning to the police facility on West Third Street.
An additional benefit of using laptops in the field is reduced radio traffic on emergency frequencies, particularly during the typically busy second shift (3:30 to 11:30 p.m.) By logging onto the college’s employee e-mail program and its “chat” feature, officers reduce radio traffic and communicate securely (without being overheard by someone monitoring a police scanner).
“It leaves the radio opened up for more important things,” Penn College Police Chief Chris Miller said. “It frees up the (911) dispatchers, too.”
A host of security measures prevent unauthorized access to the wireless system, including passwords and other precautions.
“We’re excited about it,” Miller said. “We’ve had it up and running a couple of weeks now. For the most part, it’s working great.”
All 19 members of the Penn College Police force are trained and certified to use JNET, which they had been accessing on computer terminals at the police facility. “Now, they have it at their fingertips,” Miller said.
The computers can be moved easily among vehicles that have the appropriate mounts/docking stations, he added. “We have everything (mounting equipment) in the cars,” Miller said. “Transfer from unit to unit takes less than two minutes.”
Miller said the college pursued the laptop project because of the many advantages it offers to officers in the field. Since the county was proceeding with plans for its own program, it just made good sense for the two entities to work cooperatively. Lycoming County hopes to receive a state grant to equip other municipal police departments here. Miller said Penn College will be able to share some “good, hard figures” with the county regarding the costs per car. Penn College Police will also help to identify the inevitable “bugs” that arise with the mobile-computer system.
“It gives the officers rapid access to large volumes of data − thus providing increased knowledge of criminal activity,” said Robert L. Coolidge, director of the Information Services Department for Lycoming County. “It certainly improves the effectiveness of police personnel. It provides to the data-communication world the same gigantic strides the cell phone provided to the voice-communications world.”