“Having the benefit of advancement of technology is good for our staff and for our community,” Sheriff Tom Kaase said about the new laptops or “mobiles” in the squad cars.
In the fall of 2016, laptops were installed in each of the 19 squad cars across Fillmore County. The laptops are manufactured by Panasonic and are specifically made for law enforcement with programs that make their job easier and more efficient.
Each laptop sits on a swiveling stand in the squad car, but can easily be pulled from the vehicle and taken on calls. This allows the officer on duty to quickly type notes on scene rather than having to scribble information on a notepad and then transfer it to a computer later. The laptops, called Toughbooks, are made to withstand a lot of wear and tear from being taken on calls.
“This is brand new for Fillmore County,” Sheriff Kaase said, pointing out that many agencies throughout Minnesota have had computers in their squad cars for some time now.
“We’ve got 864 square miles that we patrol on any given day or at any given hour,” he continued. Prior to the installation of the squad laptops, officers would have to stop at the Fillmore County Sheriff’s Department to use a computer there to fill out his or her report. If the officer wasn’t near Preston, he or she would have to use a computer at the whatever local city offices were closer instead.
“Doing it that way takes that deputy out of the car and potentially further away from an emergency that may take place, whether it’s a crime in progress or a medical,” Sheriff Kaase pointed out.
In addition to decreasing response time to emergencies by keeping officers in their squad cars, the mobiles provide essential information to them right at their fingertips.
Deputies used to have to write down or remember the information for calls that came over their radios, but now everything comes up on the screen of their laptop along with updates, if there are any. They can also pull up information and notes on prior incidents with the same individual(s), which allows them to approach a situation fully informed and prepared.
“The information that they have right before them is a plus,” Sheriff Kaase noted.
All deputies are required to complete monthly online training. The laptops allow them to accomplish their training in their squad cars while parked on the side of the road watching for traffic violations, vandalism, and more. This increases their productivity, an important factor for a small department that works hard to cover an area the size of FIllmore County.
The days of calling in a license plate or driver’s license number and then waiting while dispatch looked up the information and relayed it back are also over. Officers can now enter the number into their laptop and within seconds, have everything they need on the screen. An additional benefit to this is that it reduces the call load for the dispatcher.
“We were considering whether it was safe or effective to have only one dispatcher on (duty) at a time, but with the reduced workload, we can put the decision off for a while longer,” said Sheriff Kaase.
Because the laptops run off of a wireless signal, each squad car was also fitted with a booster that enhances and increases the signal, an important feature with the hilly topography of Fillmore County where cell service can be spotty and unpredictable. The booster not only ensures a wireless signal for the laptop, but the deputy’s cell phone as well, which is essential for safety. Other emergency responders such as EMTs or fireman can use the increased signal from the squad car’s booster to use their phones reliably as well. Thus the installation of the laptops increase safety and communication not only for the deputies, but also for other departments.
By clicking on a map on the laptop, each officer can easily see where the others are in real-time. Sheriff Kaase explained that if an officer were in trouble and couldn’t radio in, the ability to see his or her location could be life-saving.
Installing the laptops in the 19 squad cars across Fillmore County wasn’t cheap, but it was worth it. The cost per car came to around $10,500. The department received a grant which covered almost $3,200 for each computer which brought the total cost down to $7,200 per laptop.
Some of the towns that the Fillmore County Sheriff’s Department have contracts with helped pay a portion of the cost for their squad cars, while others were able to cover theirs completely.
Like anything else, there will be ongoing costs for maintenance with the laptops, but those are being absorbed by normal budgeting.
“Everyone’s adapted well and appreciates the ease of use,” Sheriff Kaase said about the new technology. “So far, we’re very happy and very pleased with the improved efficiency of operations.”