Mobile computer systems are proving themselves vital to the future of public safety
- By TJ Kennedy
- Apr 01, 2012
Imagine that you are asked to police nearly 4 million people in
a 3,171-square-mile area—larger than Rhode Island and Delaware
combined—in a metropolitan region with more than 10
million residents and 4,057 square miles, and have a sworn and
professional staff of more than 17,000 people using 1987 technology. In
2011, that is exactly what the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department
(LASD), the largest such department in the United States, was doing.
Its deputies in the field were being asked to make do with an old,
end-of-life mobile data terminal (MDT) system that it had been using
for more than two decades. A major drawback to its usefulness in
the 21st century was that the MDT units supported only text-based
The system was so antiquated that parts for it weren’t even being
sold in this country anymore. It was so old that it pre-dated the birth
of some of the department’s younger employees.
While 1987 technology may be adequate for a sheriff ’s department
in rural areas with little crime, LASD was in desperate need of
a new system. Waltham, Mass.-based Raytheon Company had some
ideas on how to drastically update LASD’s technology. As a longtime
provider of state-of-the-art electronics and integrated complex
communications systems to the military, the company understood
the importance of mission-critical solutions that LASD required for
deputies to be successful in the field.
“For over 60 years, we have been designing, testing, and delivering
reliable, secure communications technologies for the military,”
said T.J. Kennedy of Raytheon. “Our systems are battlefield tested in
some of the most challenging and grueling environments any product
can face. If it works out there, you can be assured it will work for
any public safety agency.”
After a competitive bid process, the LASD selected Raytheon to
integrate a new interoperable mobile data computer system (MDCS)
that would significantly improve data rates and enable the department
to extend its desktop capabilities and applications to its fleet of
several thousand vehicles.
The MDCS project represented the largest deployment of mobile
digital computers to any sheriff ’s department in the country. More
than 2,400 field units are being equipped. These vehicles range from
patrol cars to SUVs, prisoner transport busses, motorcycles and even
boats. (Los Angeles County includes 75 miles of ocean coastline, plus
it has many inland lakes that require patrolling.)
Raytheon also provided installation kits for every unit, as well as
a full multi-year warranty, and assumed maintenance services on the
“With its many years of experience, Raytheon had the expertise
and depth of knowledge to provide the LASD with an innovative,
cost-effective, seamless public safety mobile data communications
system that will evolve over time with our needs,” said Scott Edson,
captain of LASD Communications and Fleet Management Bureau.
Now, for the first time in the department’s history, LASD’s scores
of field vehicles will have instant, real-time access to state-of-the-art
For instance, deputies can easily and quickly access the Internet
and the LASD intranet to obtain current information for citizens in
search of locations for social services, homeless shelters or other material
when they (the citizens) most need it.
With GPS and mapping capabilities at their fingertips, deputies
arrive at calls quicker, since they no longer have to pull out a cumbersome
paper map, locate the street and address, and then mentally
figure out the fastest route to get there. What may have taken deputies
upward of a minute to ascertain, now can be done in seconds. GPS
capability also allows deputies to see locations of other officers that
may be nearby.
The solution also provides in-the-field access to fingerprint data,
DMV photos, FBI records and warrants, and enables officers to conduct background checks. This greatly aids
deputies in being able to more quickly assess
a situation and decide on a course of action.
The MDCS also allows staff in the field to
- All criminal databases (Criminal Justice
Information Services, National Crime Information
- Information such as penal and vehicle
codes, Peace Officers legal sourcebook,
manual of policy and procedures, etc.
- Photographs of wanted suspects as well as
America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency
Response (AMBER) alerts
- Security cameras of local businesses that
have chosen to make them available
The system allows law enforcement queries,
provides a resource library, is a method
for taking field reports, does messaging, and
has the capability to input field interviews
and make traffic reports.
The system enhances the knowledge, support,
services and safety of patrol deputies
by migrating data communications from the
former private network to a commercial wireless
broadband service. Its open architecture
design enables quick and easy integration for
future software and hardware upgrades and
additions when they become available.
The open-architecture MDCS has five
primary hardware components.
- The computing power is provided by a
Panasonic Toughbook CF-31 laptop. It
is equipped with a full magnesium alloy
case with a 250-GB shock-mounted,
quick-release hard drive to deliver maximum
durability and portability. The laptop
is seated in a docking station and
cannot be removed without the docking
station key. LASD motorcycles equipped
with an MDCS use a Toughbook CF-19
laptop. Both models of laptops meet military
tough requirements for durability.
- A Havis docking station is mounted between
the driver and front passenger seat.
The docking station, or port replicator,
locks the laptop in position in the vehicle.
It provides electrical power to the devices
connected to it and serves as an interface
connection between the laptop and external
devices. A LIND power adapter is
mounted to the bottom to provide power
to both the docking station and laptop.
The antenna, magnetic stripe reader, Cogent
BlueCheck fingerprint scanner, and
voltage monitor also connect to the laptop
through the docking station.
- To “read” a California state driver’s license
or identification card and input its
data into the laptop, the MDCS includes a
MagTek Mini Swipe Reader, or magnetic
stripe reader. It connects to the docking
station through a USB port and mounts
to the front of the center console. An LED
indicator on the magnetic stripe reader
provides continuous status of the device.
- Each LASD vehicle with an MDCS is
equipped with two antennas that provide
cell, GPS and Wi-Fi capability.
- A mounting base for the docking station,
magnetic stripe reader, Motorola radio
face unit, and Smart System LMS panel is
provided by a Havis center console. It also
holds three 12-volt adapters for various
uses, including battery recharging, and a
map light on the front passenger side.
The system automatically switches between
commercial cellular and Wi-Fi when
the vehicles are back at their respective stations
to receive the remote upgrade and
maintenance required to keep the system
current and running smoothly.
Forty-eight LASD facilities, located
throughout the county, are or will be configured
with a wireless access point by Cisco,
providing the mobile data computers with a
high-speed connection via Wi-Fi to NetMotion
servers and the Sheriff ’s Data Network.
The Wi-Fi connection is used primarily for
computer updates and over-the-air maintenance
to the MDCS.
Two additional sets of servers run Net-
Motion software and the Microsoft software
product. A System Center Configuration
Manager is stationed at two separate LASD
data centers. The two banks of servers via
NetMotion software are connected to every
operational MDCS. The servers include software
that controls how the computers talk to
the back-end network—cell and Wi-Fi—as
well as software for virus protection, system
maintenance and data backup.
The new “technology propels the Los Angeles
County Sheriff ’s Department into the
21st century,” said Los Angeles County Sheriff
Lee Baca. “Raytheon worked closely with
our sheriff ’s deputies, engineers and technicians
to integrate the latest public safety
technologies and capabilities into our vehicles.
This new mobile data computer system
greatly increases the efficiency of deputies in
the field. It provides more knowledge right at
their fingertips, and enables them to do more
for the public now and in the years ahead.”
An added benefit Raytheon is providing
LASD is the use of the company’s new
27,000-square-foot Public Safety Regional
Technology Center, opening in Downey,
Calif. The center is designed to help maximize
the capabilities of the system as new
technologies become available.
It is safe to say that the $19.9-million investment
made by the LASD and the County
of Los Angeles has dramatically upgraded
the department’s field-policing technology
and provides a vital tool to the future of public
safety for the millions of people living in
the LASD service area.
This article originally appeared in the April 2012 issue of Security Today.