February 18, 2002 11:00 pm
NEW PATROL TOOLS: Union County deputies will soon be learning how to add in-car computers to their arsenals of crime-fighting tools. ().
NEW PATROL TOOLS: Union County deputies will soon be learning how to add in-car computers to their arsenals of crime-fighting tools. ().

By T.L. Petersen

Observer Staff Writer

A Union County business was being repeatedly robbed and vandalized.

Every time deputies tried to quietly set up outside to observe the building, the bad guys would disappear.

The answer was finally clarified when other methods were used to find the suspects they had mobile scanners, and if they heard the deputies saying where they were watching, the suspects fled the area.

Technology, law enforcement officers have learned, is a two-way street. What they have, the bad guys usually find a way to use.

But now, Union County deputies are hoping to get a step ahead and have the ability to communicate among


The sheriffs office is using grant monies to purchase seven mobile computer units for patrol vehicles a system similar to that already being used in some La Grande police patrol cars.

The units, expected to be installed in the sheriff vehicles in the next few weeks, are being funded by grants of $36,889 and $69,377. Only one of the grants required local matching money that Undersheriff Dana Wright has taken from the departments technology budget.

A large portion of the money has gone to install the support tower and technical support pieces for the computer system, specially designed for law enforcement to safeguard against hacking and other interruptions, Wright said.

Were finding that criminals go out and commit crimes with their mobile scanners on, Wright said, shaking his head in frustration. If anyone alerts deputies to a problem, the mobile scanners pick up information either relayed to deputies on patrol, or relayed from deputies to the dispatch headquarters.

Some criminals, he added, are even tapping into law enforcements radio frequencies and cell phone communications.

The goal, Wright said, is to have access to the computers to keep communications between officers and dispatchers quiet when the need arises.

The computer systems in the patrol cars, which look much like mounted laptops, will allow officers to access more information more quickly, easing bottlenecks that officers encounter.

With the new systems, an officer in his unit can access the driving information of someone stopped for a traffic problem rather than calling into the central dispatch center.

Now if the dispatch center is busy, an officer making a traffic stop may have to wait until dispatchers have a free moment to run a drivers license number or cars license plate number through the system.

The computers also can ease another stress on the dispatch center, Wright said.

Officers are dispatched as calls come in via several sources. As an officer completes one call, the next on the waiting list is sent to him or her. With the new on-board computers, an officer can check on the waiting calls and determine if one is nearby or could be dealt with on the way to another call.

For deputies covering hundreds of miles of Union County roadways, the time savings could be immense.

Wright also hopes that on those infrequent times when a suspect is fleeing officers, the computers will give deputies another edge. If officers following a suspect can communicate via computer the direction of a fleeing suspect, he said, there is a better chance of another officer setting up a roadblock or spike strip, without the suspect hearing the message on his scanner and turning in another direction.

Wright said that computer units he and senior department specialist Cathie Falck are getting bids on are similar, but not the same, as the police departments. The system has several features designed for law enforcement work, including protecting information from accidental release.

Deputies may also, eventually, be able to access photographs of suspects as a search is under way, but that feature is not immediately available.

The computers, Wright said, wont replace police radios and will take time for deputies to learn.

Eventually, Wright said, well move to a paperless reporting


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