California Communities Tap Wireless Crime-Fighting Data

Two California communities are being protected by police officers with patrol car access to crime databases and records, thanks to a new wireless mobile communication and information system.

PacketCluster Patrol software, produced by Cerulean Technology Inc., Marlborough, Mass., gives the Salinas/Monterey County Mobile Computer Terminal Consortium access to crime-fighting data directly from patrol car-based laptop computers.

More than 400 patrol officers in the consortium can now access via the wireless network records management systems and county, state and federal databases as well as a computer-aided dispatch system. The officers can access secure information from one or more of the databases in a matter of seconds with a single query.

"To be able to share records was previously unheard of. We couldn't do it over the radio because of the privileged nature of the information, but now officers can do background checks on the system securely, right in their cars," said Sgt. Tracy Molfino, of the Salinas Police Department.

"Before, we didn't have the communication between agencies, either in person or through a third party," Molfino said. "Now we have cross-jurisdictional communication and the whole system is progressing in an appropriate fashion."

The PacketCluster Patrol system uses wireless modems to link the consortium's 100-plus patrol cars to criminal and motor vehicle databases.

Officers can communicate with each other through the system. It also provides the option of cross-referencing previous cases and arrests with a number of variables including identification information, such as birthmarks and scars, and crime patterns in certain locations.

An unexpected bonus is that officers can run registration checks on a vehicle to see if its license plates or registration tags have been reported stolen. With the high price of tags in California, that service is being used on a daily basis, Molfino said.

The alliance currently has four members, but will be adding eight more through a recently awarded federal Community Oriented Policing Services' Making Officer Redeployment Effective (COPS MORE) grant. With its new members, the consortium plans to expand its wireless ability by integrating a geographic information system application.

"With our soon-to-be 12 members, every geographic area of Monterey County will be pulled together into one communications network," Molfino said. "The system is only about three-quarters installed and we're already getting 10,000 queries a month."

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