Lt. Billy Smith of the Tennessee Highway Patrol anticipates his agency will deploy up to 1,000 Panasonic Toughbooks.

Feb 03 2020

Tough Laptops Help Police with Data Collection and Retention

Police officers on patrol bring ruggedized technology along for the ride.

Tennessee state law covering electronic reporting makes having access to a computer crucial for state troopers on duty, says Lt. Billy Smith of the Tennessee Highway Patrol.

Weather is also a major factor when choosing a ruggedized product, Smith says. “Officers may be on motorcycles; they may be outside in harsh environments.” The Tennessee Highway Patrol has long relied on Panasonic’s Toughbook range of products to meet such requirements.

Police departments discover ruggedized laptops empower them to fulfill mandates to retain data and transfer it from the field to a data center. First responders turn to modern rugged laptops to record, analyze and protect that data in the field as necessary. Such laptops shield data from vibrations and heat, and they provide a big increase in mobility for officers collecting data on the scene.

“The devices are changing, software is changing, networks are changing,” says retired Chief Harlin McEwen, a former chief of police for Ithaca, N.Y. (McEwen also served as chairman of the Communications and Technology Committee of the Inter-national Association of Chiefs of Police from 1978 to 2015.)

“Most of the larger agencies and midsized agencies that have IT staffs to support them are investing in records management systems and computer-aided dispatch systems,” he says.

The changes have been particularly rapid in the past decade, McEwen says. “Most police agencies didn’t even issue smartphones 10 years ago,” he notes.

Tennessee Highway Patrol Expands Use of Toughbooks

After three generations of Toughbook laptops, the Tennessee Highway Patrol is now transitioning to Panasonic’s ruggedized Toughbook 33 2-in-1s, Smith says.

“We’re trying to reduce the footprint in the car,” he explains. “We have roughly 300 out in the field. They’re lighter and smaller.” Smith expects a total deployment of 700 to 1,000 devices by the time his agency completes its laptop acquisition.

The 2-in-1s are also more versatile, Smith says. Troopers still have access to a full keyboard inside the car, but the 33 functions as a touch-screen tablet, making it easier to use outside the car. The tablet is particularly helpful for crash reporting, he notes.

Panasonic Toughbook

The Tennessee Highway Patrol has about 300 Toughbooks in the field. Photography by William DeShazer

“They can take pictures with the tablet at a crash scene and attach those photos to the crash report much more easily,” Smith says. “They’re not having to use another piece of hardware.”

Troopers use the 33s to issue electronic citations and record commercial vehicle inspections, as well as to complete daily tasks like checking email and filing arrest reports that once would have meant returning to the office.

The reaction to the new devices has been positive. “The troopers are absolutely loving the new tablets — they’re much faster,” Smith says. And for younger troopers, the touch-screen capability is particularly popular.

“They may or may not even use the keyboard,” Smith says.

MORE FROM STATETECH: Discover the changes that are coming to officer safety technology in vehicles.

San Jose Uses Ultrarugged Notebooks to Beat the Heat

The San Jose Police Department in California went rugged for a host of reasons, but it primarily needed machines that could withstand heat.

In San Jose, the police department’s Getac ultrarugged notebooks remain in cars between shifts, says Rudy Yeung, division manager for systems development. Even given the relatively mild summers the city experiences, temperatures in squad cars can spike well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

Tennessee Highway Patrol Lt. Billy Smith
They can take pictures with the tablet at a crash scene and attach those photos to the crash report much more easily.”

Lt. Billy Smith Tennessee Highway Patrol

“We could find much cheaper laptops, but put them in the car even for half a day and they would melt,” Yeung says. “We find durability, temperaturewise, most important.”

Yeung also cites Getac’s solid-state drives as a deciding feature. “When you carry the laptop around, shaking and vibration won’t damage the data inside,” he says.

From an IT perspective, the notebooks are simple to support. Patches are pushed out remotely, and only the rare hardware issue needs to be dealt with in person. And, because all the equipment is standardized, officers can simply swap out a notebook that needs repair and get back on the road without needing to wait for IT support, Yeung says.

READ MORE: Find out how 5G network slicing technology can benefit public safety. 

St. Louis County Appreciates Toughbooks for Their Flexibility 

In Missouri, the St. Louis County Police Department turned to the Panasonic Toughbook 54 to meet its officers’ needs.

“The 54 is semirugged. We were looking for something that easily went in and out of a dock in a car that was still somewhat rugged but wasn’t as heavy or bulky,” says Sgt. Mike Wilson, the department’s IT director. The 54s are replacing the department’s Toughbook 31s. Wilson is particularly impressed with the new docking system, which includes flexible copper pins that don’t break easily, as previous rigid pins sometimes did.

“The goal was for officers to relate to victims and to the public in their own environment,” Wilson says. Officers can grab the devices and take notes for their reports wherever their jobs take them.

When rolling out new technologies, Wilson often encounters resistance. “Cops — and I am one, so I’m speaking for myself — we’re really hard to change,” he says. 


The number of years Panasonic’s no-fault warranty covers the Toughbooks purchased by the St. Louis County Police Department

Source: St. Louis County Police Department

He remembers one officer in particular, from the first precinct to receive the new Toughbooks, who told Wilson he did not want to be responsible for another piece of equipment.

“I told him, ‘OK, just do what you can and I’ll call you in a month to see if you like it,’” Wilson says. When Wilson did call him and offer, in jest, to take the computer back, he found the officer had been won over.

“‘No way,’ he said, ‘you can’t have it! I’m keeping this thing,’” he adds.

MORE FROM STATETECH: Discover the operational benefits of cutting-edge public safety tech. 

The Need to Evaluate a Toughbook Purchase 

McEwen has advice for those law enforcement agencies that are ready to buy or upgrade their mobile computing solution, particularly when looking at laptops.

“A lot of departments make investments in technology without a proper evaluation or an informed understanding of what’s available,” he cautions.

He recommends working with an expert who can help evaluate the market and match needs to gear. And don’t forget the power of the customer review.

“Always reach out to other agencies,” McEwen says. “If you have five product lines that are competing for what you want to buy, ask for names and phone numbers for four or five of their customers.”

As with all technology investments, the more information you can gather before buying, the better.

Photography by William DeShazer

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