COUNTY LINES

A Maryland county uses handheld PCs to squelch racial profiling

An eye out. To honor an agreement it made with the federal Justice Department, Maryland's Montgomery County Police Department has adopted a tracking system to monitor whether police officers are stopping motorists in a fair manner.

Under a $373,000 contract with Mobile Commerce and Computing of McLean, Va., the county is using Traffic Stop, a mobile application from Rubicon Technologies Inc. of McLean, Va.

The software runs on more than 1,100 Aero 1550 mobile handheld PCs from Compaq Computer Corp. under Microsoft Windows CE.

Just the facts. Police officers use the system to collect data about the race, age and gender of motorists stopped for traffic violations and record the circumstances surrounding the traffic stops.

A Justice Department probe found that in 1997 and 1998, African-American motorists received 21 percent of all traffic tickets in Montgomery County, although the county's population is only 13 percent African-American.

Such patterns of police behavior have prompted widespread controversy about racial profiling by law enforcement officers.

Dave Linn, director of technology, said police officers download statistical data from the handheld PCs at one of 10 docking stations throughout the county. The officer receives a confirmation on the handheld with the number of traffic stops successfully received at the county server. The statistical data can be downloaded only to the county's server.

Dell ringing. The docking stations use an Ethernet network interface card to connect to a Dell 600-MHz Pentium II OptiPlex GX 110 PC with 128M of RAM running Windows 2000.

The system transmits the data to a back-end central server for later analysis. The department uses a Microsoft Access database running on a 200-MHz Compaq ProLiant 2000 with 256K of RAM and 4G of storage.

Linn said the department chose a Windows CE platform over the Palm operating system from Palm Inc. of Santa Clara, Calif., because the former has twice the RAM with 16M. Also, he said, the department uses Microsoft Office 97 Professional, and officers can easily download daily schedules, contact lists and maps from their office or home PCs directly to the handhelds.

'Donna Young

E-mail: dyoung@gcn.com

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