Fresno Cops to Get Broadband Wireless

In tense situations, where a few seconds’ delay can mean the difference between life and death, cops need as much information as they can get — fast. But legacy communications systems and incompatible networks often slow the delivery of vital data.

Fresno, Calif., plans to give its police officers an emergency communications system, which will include instant messaging and streaming video. This week, the city announced an engagement with IBM Global Services to build a wireless system to provide real-time video and data communications to police officers.

IBM’s WebSphere Everyplace Connection Manager will power the system. It optimizes bandwidth and encrypts data transmissions, and it enables the police to roam cross-network.

It also will act as the integration layer for the different networks used by the department, server hardware, device operating systems and various mobile security protocols. The software will run on an IBM eServer xSeries server, using an Intel Xeon processor.

Live, streaming video of suspects and unfolding situations will allow commanders at headquarters to make better decisions about deploying officers, while backup officers on the way to a crime scene can use that video to better prepare themselves. Personnel will be able to conduct instant messaging conversations with their fellows in the field or at the station house.

For example, a camera on a police chopper could send video images of a crime scene to officers on the ground who had limited visibility, and the same images would reach the precinct.

The handheld devices, connected to a Wi-Fi node in the vehicle, will get police officers out of their cars and onto the streets, according to Police Chief Jerry Dyer.

“Police officers need to be outside the cruiser much of the time to do their jobs properly,” he said in a statement. “It’s the best way to build relationships with citizens and to ensure the safety of the officers and the public. This system should empower the officer to perform better on the job.”

Fresno cops already carry handhelds to access remote databases and download mug shots, but they’ve saturated the 800MHz system they now use, Patrick Rhames, captain of the Fresno Police Department, told Another issue, he said, is that encryption takes up too much bandwidth.

The new IBM system, “allows us to encrypt the data, and we can do maintenance remotely, which is a huge factor for us. We have to get some bigger pipes,” Rhames said. “There’s an awful lot of data during peak load hours.”

The new system could bring some of the benefits of e-business to the police, such as paperwork reduction and improved accuracy. The Fresno force already files reports electronically, putting it ahead of many municipalities, where officers put in substantial desk time that might be more productively used out on the street. But Fresno hopes to eliminate the paper ticket book and let traffic cops proffer e-tickets — just as airlines and movie theaters already do.

The city said the system will not only take information to a new level, it also will help to protect local packing plants, warehouses and shipping facilities that handle $2.8 billion worth of produce grown in the region that calls itself “the nation’s salad bowl.” The region also is home to several federal installations, including a strategic wing of the Air National Guard, and it’s a designated port of entry for products entering the United States.

But Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer said that the most important use for the system will be to combat everyday crime. Phase one of the project, budgeted at $750,000, was completely funded by a grant from the federal Department of Justice, Community Oriented Policing Services. Phase one is scheduled to be completed by June 30.

In the first phase, IBM is providing the high-speed wireless infrastructure to cover a significant portion of Fresno, according to Diana Hage, director of wireless broadband services for IBM global services. “It’s an overlay infrastructure to enhance the existing private LAN mobile radio system.”

Hage said the overlay will enhance performance of wireless applications, while WebSphere Everyplace Connections Manager will let officers roam between the various existing networks they use now.

“We’re using the city’s existing infrastructure to build out in the most efficient manner,” Hage said, such as using existing towers.

Phase one will not include the streaming video, but it will deploy the infrastructure to later enable it.

Eventually, the system could become the basis of a region-wide first-responder network linking many police departments with federal authorities, firefighters, paramedics and others agencies. Now, inter-agency communications are hampered by diverse protocols, spectrum and systems used by different communities and even different departments within the same municipality.

Hage said that the 900MHz microwave spectrum used by the new system is unlicensed and therefore available to all public safety agencies, while the IP nature of the network makes for interoperable communications.

“It’s a very open network from the very beginning,” Hage said. “The spectrum and protocol are open. It would just take other agencies seeing the benefits of it.”

IDC analyst Vernon Turner said the project shows that users of products like WebSphere don’t need to be traditional enterprises. Public utilities and public safety organizations have similar problems with “siloed” information, he said.

“This is an interesting example of the shape of things to come,” Turner said, “when we start to integrate separate information sources, using technology like WebSphere Everyplace Connection Manager to integrate the process as well as the information.”

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