Wi-Fi Policing Comes to Georgia

By Ed Sutherland

April 21, 2005

Having a pre-installed fixed wireless network has helped one small southern location get the cops unwired and, it's hoped, more efficient.

Sandersville, Ga., isn't your typical sleepy town of the American South. Not only is it home to the governor, it is also a telecom-savvy city with a municipally-owned fixed wireless network -- and now it can add a Wi-Fi-enabled police force to its list of innovations.

Less than a year after the non-line-of-sight network was installed, its designers at Atlanta-based Camvera Networks (formerly Tri-State Broadband Inc) have returned to install Wi-Fi connections in five police cruisers.

"What we are doing is taking a Ford police interceptor and equipping it as a tactical interdiction unit," says Elizabeth Zucco, marketing director at Camvera. "The system has an integrated Wi-Fi access point and uses any type of backhaul network—Wi-Fi or fixed wireless." The units are equipped with wireless laptops.

Navini Network's pre-WiMax system is supplying the fixed broadband component.

A key component of the program, expected to expand, is managing paperwork from the patrol car. "The reason we are so excited about this is that it will greatly reduce the time and paperwork necessary to manage an agency, in addition to reducing duplicated efforts," according to James Graham, President of Management Data Systems (MDS).

"This creates a functional wireless solution for the law enforcement community," says Graham. "We use Advantage Database Server from Extended Systems to ensure a safe and highly secure database connection."

The Statesboro, Ga.-based Georgia criminal records management software developer is working with Camvera to get the popular reporting tool, psiTrack, into patrol cars. Wireless Internet delivery "allows agencies to do real-time citation, incident, and accident reporting from the patrol car," according to a statement.

"We have many of the same customers and expect that through our partnership with MDS, we can assist these customers to leverage their investment and continue to modernize the way they work," according to Carl Peede, Camvera's President and CEO.

"We have been testing wireless Internet access from our patrol vehicles in Sandersville since late last year," says Captain Charles Jackson of the Sandersville police force. Although some changes had to be made, he says, "we now have real-time access to psiTrack applications via the Internet."

Along with combating the regular onslaught of police paperwork, the pilot project plans support of wireless video. "We also have plans for delivering real-time video surveillance across the same wireless connection," says Peede.

Camvera foresees offering streaming video in patrol cars, according to Zucco. Being able to view video from their police units would assist officers with homeland defense duties, says the Camvera executive. Video cameras monitor the city's water towers, as well as other locations.

Wireless policing is drawing increased attention from local governments following the recent Atlanta courthouse shooting, says Zucco. On March 11, defendant Brian Nichols escaped from the Fulton County courthouse after killing four people.

In addition to Sandersville and another site in Kentucky, the next to get the wireless policing system will be Adel, Ga. Like Sandersville, Adel operates its own broadband wireless network—this time through a WISP, Southlink.us. The system is split between a non-line-of-sight (NLOS) operation for residential users and small businesses, and faster line-of-sight (LOS) connections for commercial businesses. The NLOS offers speeds up to 2 Mbps, while the LOS alternative provides 10 Mbps.

Earlier this year, Camvera worked with Quitman, Ga., to install Navini's pre-WiMax Ripwave system as an alternative to the local cable setup. The wireless option provides residents with speeds equal to DSL or cable.

Wi-Fi policing is catching on in other areas, such as Syracuse, N.Y.The Syracuse PD worked with Fortress Technologies to use secure Wi-Fi in interview rooms and allow officers to access criminal histories while connected to area hotspots.

In New York City, officers are using Wi-Fi connections and handheld devices from Symbol to more accurately track the tickets they hand out. The city was losing millions from tickets written in unintelligible scrawl. "For the NYPD, it was about ROI (return on investment). They will get their money back in about four months," Brian Lehmann of Symbol's Global Government Solutions unit said in 2003.

In San Mateo, Calif., police use Wi-Fi-enabled patrol cars to share information about crime suspects and victims.

Los Angeles' police began using Wi-Fi in the field in response to a federal court order. Vytek's ProfilerPD software enabled LA police to more accurately track and record the traffic stops they conduct. Officers then transfer the data via hotspots surrounding area station houses.

Fresno, Calif., police are teaming up with IBM's WebSphere Everyplace Connection Manager to provide officers in the air and on the ground with Wi-Fi connections. The city envisions police helicopters sending crime scene images to patrol cars. Commanders could receive real-time video streams of unfolding crime scenes. Beat cops could toss their paper tickets and adopt e-tickets.

Brockton, Mass. is considering linking video cameras by a high-speed wireless network, allowing police to glimpse everything from traffic infractions to crimes underway, all from their patrol cars. As more and more municipalities investigate the advantages of operating their own wireless broadband networks, police and safety become natural applications. Officers tied to the dispatch center awaiting instructions are being freed up.

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