Henrico County is an independent jurisdiction in
the Commonwealth of Virginia, encompassing 245 square miles, with a population of 243,000. The
county includes urban areas, including several Fortune 500 companies, and large
rural areas. The Henrico County police
department employs 474 officers. InglenetĂs terminal emulation software,
TIP Studio Workstation, allows laptops in patrol cars to communicate
directly with the Unisys mainframes over mobile radio frequency protocols. The
custom application has worked so well for the police department that the county
plans to roll it out to the fire department.
The police department wanted a more efficient way
for police officers on the road to obtain information from local, state and
national mainframe databases, which are either stored on or accessed via Unisys
mainframes. Previously, officers obtained this information by calling in the
query to a dispatcher by radio, waiting for the dispatcher to query the database
and get a response, and then listening to the dispatcher read back the results.
This approach was inefficient, as it took up the time of two people and limited
the amount of information that could be transmitted.
In 1995, the police department decided to create
a mobile environment that duplicated their office environment ű one that would
allow the officers to access the databases directly. For hardware, the team
chose Windows 95-based laptops with backlit touch screens and a Mayday emergency
key, installing them in squad cars in such a way that the officers could use
them while driving. For software, they brought in Inglenet to customize
TIP Workstation ű both to allow the laptops to communicate directly with
the Unisys mainframes over mobile radio frequency protocols and to integrate the
solution with Office.
Using VBA (Visual Basic for Applications)
Inglenet made the long character-based strings needed to access the Unisys
mainframe databases into command and toggle buttons. The officer could then
enter a query by touching the appropriate button. Inglenet also used Microsoft
Visual C++ to add a cascading inquiry capability that automates the process of
doing multiple queries. For example, an officer making a routine traffic stop
can initiate a series of queries simply by entering the carĂs license plate
number. The system will query the Department of Motor VehiclesĂ database to
determine to whom the car is registered; check a driversĂ license database to
determine license status; and query state, local and national crime databases to
determine whether there are any warrants out for the driver. The officer can
obtain several pages of data on the driver, and know what kind of person he or
she is dealing with before exiting the police car.
With the new system, Henrico County officers can
Local Henrico County police data, such
as incident reports or arrest reports, stored in the Unisys System 80.
Commonwealth of Virginia data stored in the Virginia Crime Information (VIN) system, and the
Department of Motor Vehicles and Driver Registry databases. These databases also
reside on the Unisys System 80.
National information stored in the National Law Enforcement Telecommunications
Services (NLETS) and National Crime Information Center (NCIC) databases. The
former interconnects all state systems, so officers can run checks on
out-of-state vehicles and driversĂ licenses; the latter is an FBI database. Both
databases are accessed by connecting through the Commonwealth of VirginiaĂs Unisys 2200 Series.
In addition, officers can connect to a server
running Windows NT and Microsoft Exchange Server to send and receive e-mail and
Internet mail from their car.
Queries are transmitted via radio frequency
modems, using MOBITEX protocol from Bell South Communications. Both the laptops
and the server run NettechĂs RFLink, which allows TCP/IP packets to be carried
on a mobile radio frequency. Queries go to a message switch, running under
Windows NT, which routes them to the appropriate database (s). The response is
then routed back to the appropriate officer. The message switch handles the
cascading inquiries and also tracks user and service IDs (due to the mobile
nature of the laptops, this is necessary to ensure replies go back to the right
unit). A page buffer on the laptop stores responses on the hard drive, so the
officer can go back and access them later.
Although the custom application was written for
the police department, it was to be maintained by the Henrico County IT
department. The IT department wanted the ability to modify the application (for
example, adding new screen formats) without going back to the vendor, so they
asked to have a scripting language to be included as part of the application.
˘We were really pleased to find out that TIP Workstation came with
VBA, because we use Visual Basic a lot in our department,÷ said B.R. Carson, a
project manager with Henrico CountyĂs Information
Technology department. ˘That means our people donĂt need any special training to
be able to maintain the code.÷ A second benefit, according to Carson, was that
having VBA already present in TIP Workstation made it easy to
integrate the custom application with Microsoft products used by the department,
such as Microsoft Office.
Henrico County police department has experienced
many benefits from its new laptop application:
With the officers able to query the databases themselves, dispatchersĂ time is
freed up for other purposes.
Ordinary citizens with police scanners can pick up conversations between police
officers and dispatchers; the laptop queries are secure from such eavesdropping.
With the ability to store responses on the laptopsĂ hard drives, officers can
access a wealth of information ű many times more than they could get by talking
to a dispatcher. ThereĂs no need to worry about accuracy in transcribing
information received orally; the officers end up with a permanent record that
they can review later.
The enhanced quality and quantity of information makes the officersĂ jobs safer.
˘This is the most important benefit, in our opinion,÷ said Lt. Col. Middleton,
deputy police chief for Henrico County. ˘With all the information the mobile
application makes available to the officers, they know what theyĂre up against
before they get out of the police car, and that dramatically enhances their
The custom mobile application has worked out so
well for the police department the county plans to roll it out to the fire
department. Certain groups within the county public works department have also
expressed interest in the application. ˘In fact, we have received queries from
all over the Commonwealth of Virginia,÷ said Middleton. ˘WeĂve also been asked to give a presentation to law
enforcement groups in Louisiana and West
Perhaps the greatest external recognition of the
value of the application, though, has come from the FBI, which recently selected
the Henrico County police department as one of five law enforcement agencies in
the nation to participate in its newest law enforcement technology initiative,
National Crime Information Center (NCIC) 2000. This technology initiative will
enable officers to us3e their laptops to request and receive visual data, such
as mug shots and fingerprints. Officers will also be able to capture a subjectĂs
fingerprints and send them to the FBI, where they can be matched against the
prints of wanted criminals. ˘This technology will take law enforcement into the
next century,÷ said Middleton. ˘And it was because of our mobile data project
that the FBI invited us to participate.÷
VBA Solutions in Industry May 2000)
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