When Col. Kriste Kibbey Etue was appointed director of the Michigan State Police (MSP), she pushed forward with implementing a regional policing model that would provide increased services while relying less upon traditional post buildings. The new service delivery model was designed to allow the department to be more responsive to emerging crime trends and less constrained by traditional geographic boundaries. This model is what became known within the MSP as the Regional Policing Plan (RPP).
The RPP involved a massive restructuring: reducing the number of MSP posts statewide from 62 to 29, as well as establishing new district and post boundaries. In tight fiscal times, the MSP was able to implement this plan without laying off any troopers. In fact, uniform visibility increased by about 13% by returning more than 100 sergeants from administrative positions to road patrol.
Traditionally, troopers would return to their post to complete reports, process prisoners and turn in their daily logs, tickets and complete other administrative paperwork. With the RPP, the department’s goal was to create a mobile office environment in the patrol car.
To create a mobile office, troopers needed access to everything they used in the office at the post. Some of the most important items included cellular phones and mobile data computers (MDC) with connectivity to email and other desktop software applications, as well as file and printer sharing. To create the mobile office, the MSP partnered with multiple wireless vendors to develop solutions for meeting the department’s various connectivity needs—which change based on geographic location because we’re a statewide agency.
A necessary component of the mobile office was assigning each trooper a cellular phone to serve as their business phone. This mobility allows troopers more time on patrol because it reduces the need to return to the post or other locations to use a landline phone. Incoming calls can be routed from the post or dispatch center to a trooper’s cellular phone when they’re on duty.
As part of this plan, many new MDCs were purchased for patrol cars as well. The new MDCs use a solid-state hard drive that has no moving parts. Therefore, it doesn’t provide heat issues and isn’t as susceptible to temperature, making it more durable in the extreme conditions of a patrol car.
With the MDCs chosen, the next step was giving the troopers access to connect to the Internet from their patrol cars. Connectivity was determined in the same way as the cellular phones: The wireless provider with the best overall coverage for the particular geographic region was selected.
Depending on the location and the needs of each post, the connectivity hardware varied, although picking the most cost-effective solution was always part of the equation. Example: Air cards allow continuous connection if the MDC is inside or outside the patrol car; however, in some locations trunk-mounted ruggedized modems were used because they’re sturdier and provide a stronger signal than the air card.
The most northern and less populated parts of the state, where cellular coverage was either spotty or non-existent, used a dual-coverage solution. In these locations, a cellular connection was used to access the Internet and our electronic applications. Cellular reception can be spotty in this area. To ensure the troopers continue to have access to the Law Enforcement Information Network (LEIN), our state’s computerized criminal justice information system, the solution was to route the network through the department’s secure and encrypted 800-MHz digital radio system. This allows LEIN access in almost every location where a trooper patrols, regardless of cellular connectivity.
Ensuring the security of the criminal justice information we’re sending and receiving via wireless networks and protecting ourselves from hardware theft was of paramount concern. To protect the information, we employed an encryption application to encrypt both the hard drive and the Internet connection. Each trooper must also use a secure token that requires a specific user name and authentication key to log in to the MDC. For the future, we’re exploring replacing the tokens with another solution, such as a smart card access system or other solutions that don’t require the trooper to carry additional tokens.
Dispatch & Other Systems
One of the major challenges the MSP faced was connecting MDCs to county dispatch centers. Since each post operates in a different county with a separate dispatch computer system, the overall solution needed some adjustments for each post.
To complement the mobile office, we recently created new electronic applications, including an eCitation, eCrash and eDaily Log. These applications replace paper forms and are submitted online through our network from the patrol car. These new programs reduce the time spent filling out paper forms, allowing troopers more time on patrol. Citations, crash reports and daily logs are reviewable by a supervisor as soon as they are submitted, allowing supervisors to review them from any location. Courts are also able to instantly receive citations as soon as troopers submit them.
For future improvements to the mobile office, we’re researching and testing a mobile MDC-based Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) and facial recognition software. We’re also preparing for the upgrade to 4G LTE connections that are now becoming widespread. Lastly, we’re reviewing and testing alternate MDC solutions, including hybrid computers and tablets.
There are many emerging technologies we plan to explore to give our troopers the tools they need to do their job more efficiently and to provide top-level service to the public.
Trooper Aric Dowling has worked for 12 years as a trooper. Dowling works now at the MSP Headquarters in Lansing, Mich., where he continues to work on the MSP mobile office technology, applications and future plans.