The California Highway Patrol equips officers with new mobility solutions to foster greater transparency and safety.

Jul 13 2021

California Highway Patrol Hands Officers Vital New Tools

The large public safety agency equips police with new mobility solutions to foster greater transparency and safety.

In the popular ’70s and ’80s TV show CHiPs, the titular motorcycle officers didn’t carry today’s ubiquitous mobile data terminals — rugged laptop computers for running license plate numbers, checking crime databases and more. That’s because they couldn’t. MDTs weren’t common yet and, well, Ponch and Jon rode motorcycles — where would they install MDTs?

But today’s California Highway Patrol needed an answer. Since 2018, under California’s Racial and Identity Profiling Act, law enforcement agencies, including the CHP, are required to collect extensive data when they initiate contact with the public, particularly for traffic stops. This “stop data,” which includes information like date, time and location, as well as the perceived race, gender, age and more of the person stopped, must be reported digitally to the California Department of Justice.

In its effort to protect citizens and eliminate profiling, state officials said of the act’s impact on law enforcement, “Getting ahead of the curve and developing a data collection and reporting process now will provide dividends later.” For CHP’s motorcycle officers, there had to be a safe, flexible way to support that process.

“We sought an efficient mechanism to capture daily activity information, including data about enforcement contacts, in a form factor that could withstand the rigors of an average officer’s work shift,” says Kimberly Holder, CHP’s CTO. “Enforcement officers in patrol vehicles historically used a mounted computer system to access the application for entering this data. But our motorcycle officers did not have the ability to electronically document their activities during their shifts, which required them to keep written notes to be entered into the system back at the office when their shifts were over.”

CHP Deploys Rugged Tablets in Motorcycle Saddlebags

In the month before RIPA officially took effect, CHP distributed 500 Panasonic Toughbook CF-20 detachable notebook computers to its motorcycle officers for collecting stop data. Deployed as ruggedized touch tablets, the officers could slip the devices into their saddlebags and use the touch screen interface to enter the required information.

“Adoption was immediate, and feedback from the field was positive,” Holder says. “Shortly into the pilot phase, we saw great success in the accurate collection of data, and it saved officers time.”

With the assistance of CDW•G, CHP is now in the process of rolling out roughly 2,000 Toughbook CF-20 devices to a variety of law enforcement officials, not just motorcycle officers, and not only to collect stop data but also to be a single mobile computing platform that can handle many tasks. What’s more, the successful deployment of the new mobile platform is dovetailing well with other digital transformation efforts at CHP, including video collection.

Kimberly Holder, CTO, California Highway Patrol

“Adoption was immediate, and feedback from the field was positive,” says Kimberly Holder, CTO of the California Highway Patrol

“The fact is, sitting inside a patrol vehicle at an MDT, with the officer’s attention drawn away from traffic and pedestrians, can increase the risk of injury and reduce officer safety,” Holder says. “The tablets provide the opportunity for officers to record data in a manner that increases safety based on the environment, while also allowing them to use common systems, such as e-citations and crash reporting.”

RELATED: Discover how better data enhances emergency response.

Public Safety Aims for Digital Transformation

Digital transformation is a hot topic across many types of organizations — from business to healthcare and schools. However, few groups are tackling transformation at the same time they face the kind of extra scrutiny that law enforcement faces. California’s RIPA legislation is meant to boost confidence in and transparency by police but leaves up to agencies the best way to collect, store and report the required data.

“Everyone thinks law enforcement functions like the CSI-type dramas on TV. But it’s much more analog,” says Alison Brooks, research vice president for worldwide public safety at IDC. “That can lead to all manner of data duplication, re-entry and, in some cases, errors. There is now a broad trend to ensure data integrity, and for many agencies, that means equipping officers with better mobile tools so they can do data entry just once and be more available to the community.”

MORE FROM STATETECH: How can video walls enhance situational awareness for emergency operations? 

FirstNet Enables Secure Emergency Communications

The Toughbook CF-20 is one of more than 200 mobile devices certified to work with the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet), the nationwide broadband network for public safety agencies, including police and fire. 

FirstNet was established by Congress in the aftermath of 9/11 to provide a secure, dedicated wireless broadband network for first responders and other organizations involved in critical infrastructure and public health and safety.

For a device to work on FirstNet (established by telecommunications giant AT&T), an agency must subscribe to FirstNet service and the device must support a FirstNet SIM card, which provides access to FirstNet’s dedicated and highly secure core network. FirstNet Ready devices also support access to Band 14, the radio spectrum in the 700MHz range set aside by Congress for the purpose.

Kimberly Holder
The tablets provide the opportunity for officers to record data in a manner that increases safety based on the environment.”

Kimberly Holder CTO, California Highway Patrol

Like many other agencies, CHP maintains wireless service through ­cellular providers to ensure widespread connectivity (its traffic stop data is mainly transmitted commercially or via Wi-Fi using a VPN), but it is also a prominent FirstNet customer for other communications.

“California state and local agencies have used FirstNet in a variety of ways,” says Dave Buchanan, director of public safety engagement for the First Responder Network Authority. “California Highway Patrol has taken a huge step forward by ensuring officers have secure, reliable communications for their everyday operations. As FirstNet users, they now have access to adopt even more applications that are designed specifically for them.”

Toughbooks Prove to Be Multipurpose Devices

As CHP deployed rugged tablets to collect stop data, it soon recognized the devices could be used for many tasks. Officers use the tablets’ cameras as necessary, and they’re able to print citations on Zebra Technologies printers installed in their vehicles or carried in their saddlebags. Citizens even sign for citations on the Toughbooks’ touch screens.

“Eventually, we want to be able to provide one device that can do everything,” Holder says. CHP’s Information Technology Division created the Activity Tracking System, an application and web service used to upload stop data to CHP servers and synchronize it across all devices.

“It saves time and effort for the courts and gets our officers off the street faster,” she says.

Looking ahead, CHP is using what it has learned deploying mobile solutions to launch a wireless mobile video recording system, a cloud-based ­solution for recording and transmitting dashboard camera footage. 

Making use of the cloud, it can ­support multiple platforms. And it’s scalable, which is crucial when CHP officers average 15 to 20 stops per day. Ultimately, the back end can support even more mobile video sources.

Photography by Cody Pickens