PocketBlue puts upgrade on patrol

Aether Systems Inc. has released the first major upgrade of its increasingly

popular PocketBlue wireless handheld application for law enforcement agencies.

Version 2.0 was designed to make it easier for police officers to navigate

by just touching icons rather than scrolling down through text menus as

the original version offered, said Mike Layman, senior product marketing

manager. He said it's also more intuitive, so training on the software is

significantly reduced.

The original PocketBlue rolled out about a year ago and is used in 21

jurisdictions in 11 states. It was tested by the Louisiana State Police

during Super Bowl XXXVI, the West Valley City Police Department in Utah

during the Winter Olympics and at Boston's Logan International Airport.

The software, running on handheld devices, enables foot, bike or mounted

patrol officers to access secure, real-time data about vehicles, guns and

people by tapping into the National Crime Information Center, the National

Law Enforcement Telecommunications System and department of motor vehicles

databases. They can also send and receive e-mails.

Version 1.0 runs on Palm Inc.'s Palm Vx, Research in Motion Ltd.'s 950

and 957, and Symbol Technologies' SPT 1733 handheld devices. The upgrade

also runs on the Hewlett-Packard Co.'s iPaq platform.

Layman said Version 2.0 also has several major new features:

* Field Interview Tracking — An analytical reporting tool into which

officers enter data when stopping pedestrians and vehicles. Basic information,

such as the reason for the stop, can be entered through a set of forms and

drop-down menus. "There are some cities that have been mandated by the federal

government to collect this information because of incidents of racial profiling,"

Layman said, adding that this tool can be ordered as an option and is not

standard with the upgrade.

* A first-generation interface with computer-aided dispatch systems

— Enables officers to change their status, meaning they can tell a dispatcher

whether they are en route to a scene, available or out to lunch. Layman

said that capability previously was available with laptop computers, but

not handheld devices.

The upgrade was beta tested by the South Pasadena, Calif., Police Department;

the Lake County, Fla., Sheriff's Office; and Thurston County Communications,

a regional dispatch center in Washington state. Layman said there was strong

interest in PocketBlue 2.0, which was recently presented at an International

Association of Chiefs of Police law enforcement technology conference in

Denver.

Adoption of handheld devices is not really a cultural issue as much

as it is a financial one, he said. It's easy to learn how to use the handhelds

and software, but financing it is a problem for many agencies, he said.

Subscribing to PocketBlue 2.0 costs $49 per month plus airtime, bringing

the total price to $89 per month per device, he said. A traditional software

licensing option is also available for agencies from Aether, which is based

in Owings Mill, Md.

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