Vehicle-Tracking Program Helps Cops Watch Their Backs

Lawsuits against emergency service agencies for slow or inadequate responses to 911 calls have become a rising concern to public safety agencies. But new mapping software from Cerulean Technology Inc. may help agencies stay on top of their fleet and ahead of the legal system. The company has unveiled a vehicle location package that automatically provides dispatchers real-time updates of the en route locations of their fleet.

Cerulean's PacketTrack AVL/mapping system transmits identification numbers and user names as well as latitudes and longitudes of vehicles via a small Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver connected to an on-board mobile computer. The computer sends the data to a dispatcher's server-based PacketTrack mapping program, which then displays the data on digital maps. Dispatchers, seeing the real-time location of all mobile units, can send the closest available unit to answer a call, or give officers and technicians directions to a crime or crash scene.

"It's a vehicle-based product, a dispatch center-based product and a mapping utility" all in one, said Bill Poellmitz, vice president of marketing for Cerulean. The dispatch center component shows incidents and available resources. The vehicle information component, located on the vehicle's laptop, allows drivers in a mobile unit to track on-screen their progress toward a particular call.

A third component, called the Mapping Operations Manager, "allows the user agency to update, correct and add information to any map layer," Poellmitz said. PacketTrack is compatible with Environmental Systems Research Institute Inc.'s ArcInfo, ArcView and MapInfo, as well as other common mapping formats, which allow users to incorporate existing maps into the program.

To run PacketTrack, vehicles must be equipped with Cerulean's client/server software, PacketCluster Patrol as well as mobile computers and GPS receivers. The software can run over a variety of conventional radio and public wireless networks, such as cellular digital packet data.

"It's a tool for safety and survival," said Capt. Darwin Paz of the Monroe County, Mich., Sheriff's Department. Monroe County is just south of Detroit, and officers its 93 officers cover 570 square miles. If an officer is in pursuit and forced to bail out before giving a location, the dispatcher knows where the car was, Paz said. Or, "if a police officer is abducted, we have his last known location." At present, 20 department vehicles are equipped with PacketTrack.

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