Computer provides fast access to records

This article submitted by Linda Stelling on 5/9/01.

computer in car The Paynesville squad car has stepped into the computer age. It used to take several minutes to obtain background records while on patrol. Now it takes only seconds.

A laptop computer is the newest piece of equipment for the Paynesville Police Department.

The police department has been considering the purchase for several years, but felt the computer was too expensive. "In three years, the computer's price has been cut in half, making it more affordable," said Police Chief Tony Schmitt. The computer cost only $3,500 but the final cost came to $9,700 with radio license, software license, installation, and setup.

According to Schmitt, the computer has been up and running in the squad car for two weeks without any problems. The computer plugs into the car battery system. "It's not difficult to operate," he added.

The computer provides quicker access to county and state records, said Paynesville Police Officer Kent Kortlever.

Previously, the city would have to radio the county dispatcher and the dispatcher would then notify the state for information and radio it back to the officer. "It would only take a few minutes if the dispatcher wasn't too busy," Schmitt said.

With the new computer, the officers can have the information in seconds. "We don't have to call the dispatcher. We merely run the license number directly through to the state bureau," Schmitt said.

"The computer cuts out the middle man," Kortlever added.

"We have had a lot more license checks since obtaining the computer, and netted some arrests," Schmitt said.

The officers can network chat with county or state officers using the computer, keeping their radios free for emergency calls.

The computer also allows officers to send sensitive data, which otherwise would have been broadcast over the radio system and heard over home scanners.

Dispatchers can send emergency calls directly to the car. When a chat arrives, the computer will chime and a red square will appear giving the officer a message on the computer screen and where he is needed. The dispatcher will be able to type in all the pertinent information the officer might need to know before reaching the scene of the accident or incident.

When doing a license check, if the driver is considered a threat, a red light will flash to warn the officers, Schmitt explained. The computer will also find any outstanding warrants on the owner of the car, or any aliases or for similar names.

The computer will notify the officer if a driver's license is valid, suspended, or cancelled; if the driver has any tickets or driving while intoxicated arrests; and if the driver is licensed to carry a gun.

"The computer makes the work faster and more efficient," Schmitt stressed.

The officer will be able to take the computer out of the car and connect it to their computer in the office. Schmitt said manufacturers are in the process of developing a printer that will be small enough to use in the squad car.

"Someday we'll be able to send reports directly to the courts via computer. It will be a paperless system," Schmitt said. At present everything is mailed to the courts.

Schmitt said the computer also has a mapping capability. The computer will have access to maps that include every street name. "It will also show us what other police or county sheriff's deputies are doing. If we have a call we'll know where our potential backup is located and how long it will take them to arrive," he added.

Another future component of the computer will be a global positioning system. The computer will be able to tell the dispatcher where the patrol car is located if the officer doesn't respond back within a certain period of time. "It will be a unique safety feature," Schmitt said.

Schmitt said all law enforcement agencies will have computers in their cars someday, probably within the next couple of years. At present, each county has their own separate system. The state is working on devising a system that would be compatible to connect all counties together.

At present seven communities in Stearns County are using the laptop computer system Cold Spring, Melrose, Albany, Waite Park, St. Cloud, Sartell, and Paynesville. Avon will be joining the system soon and Richmond will have a demonstration at the end of the month.

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