Police in NC town have criminal databases in hand

PocketCop puts access to state and national info systems into smart phones

The police department of Holly Ridge, N.C., has equipped officers with BlackBerry smart phones loaded with an application that lets them query state and national law enforcement databases while in the field.

The InterActPocketCop is a client/server application that has a server-side interface with state criminal justice information systems and formats data on the client side for the handheld browser.

“It’s probably the best application we have,” said Cpl. Brian Deel of the Holly Ridge Police Department. “They use it routinely,” rather than going through the radio dispatcher for information during traffic stops, field interviews and other activities.

The police department in Holly Ridge, a small town on the North Carolina coast in Onslow County, is the first in the state to equip its officers with PocketCop, and officers are pleased enough with the results that the department is hosting an open house for other state law enforcement agencies June 30 to demonstrate the system.

PocketCop, now owned by InterAct Public Safety Systems, of Winston-Salem, N.C., was developed about five years ago for Windows Mobile wireless devices, said Steven McDowell, the company’s executive vice president of engineering. But at that time, before 3G networks for mobile devices existed, “it was a little too early in the game,” he said. It started taking off about 18 months ago with the arrival of faster networks and adoption of BlackBerry devices as enterprise tools.

The application, now in Version 3, supports Windows CE devices and Research in Motion BlackBerrys. “We definitely look to expand it to add Android by early next year,” McDowell said.

The client application is small, consisting primarily of the user interface and rendering. “The formatting of the browser on most smart phones isn’t very good,” McDowell said. Criminal justice information returned from queries is formatted and parsed to be readable on the small screen.

On the server side, PocketCop provides an interface with the department’s computer-aided dispatch system and the state’s criminal justice information system. “Each state is unfortunately unique” in its CJIS, McDowell said, and the company must write separate interfaces for each state. PocketCop now supports interfaces used in 48 different states.

The application allows officers in the field to query national and state law enforcement databases for fingerprints and identification, criminal records, and outstanding warrants. It also supports records management systems for driver’s licenses, license plates, vehicle registrations, firearm registrations and other information.

The system is tailored for mobile devices, McDowell said, because CJIS data was developed decades ago for slow lines and has not evolved since then. “CJIS compresses really well,” he said, and with formatting for handheld mobile browsers, the amount of data is only about 10 percent greater than nonformatted data being returned to a traditional terminal.

The police department in Holly Ridge shares a central dispatching service with all of Onslow County, said Deel, a patrol supervisor who is the department’s unofficial IT adviser. “Radio traffic can be horrendous.” By bypassing the central dispatcher for queries, “we receive the information quite a bit faster” with PocketCop.

PocketCop can be used in conjunction with mobile data terminals that many departments are installing in patrol cars, giving officers access to CJIS and dispatch information while away from the vehicle. The application also can be used to provide data access to officers on foot, horse patrol or other nontraditional types of patrol who do not have access to terminals. Earlier this year, the Baltimore Police Department began deploying the application on BlackBerrys to its 2,000 patrol officers to support community policing, letting officers get out of their cars and engage with people without losing contact with their department.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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