I would like to address the issue of putting laptop computers in the Columbia County Sheriff's cruisers. This is a fantastic idea, one which Sheriff Clay Whittle has had me pursuing since he hired me in August of 2003. I am the information technology manager for the Columbia County Sheriff's Office. This position was created by Whittle in order to address technology issues just like this one.
The concept of putting laptops in the cruisers sounds deceptively easy. There is however, an incredible amount of work and expense beyond the cost of the laptops themselves and having them mounted in the cruisers. There are three areas that must be addressed when considering the placement of computers in the cruisers: the laptops themselves, the communications infrastructure, and the software system.
The laptops are the easy part. However, they are a special type that are hardened to handle the stress of being in a car. They cost on average twice as much as a standard laptop. So a $2,000 laptop would cost $4,000. Since we have on average 25 marked cars on the road at any given time this translates to a minimum cost of $100,000.
The current communications infrastructure is not capable of providing the bandwidth necessary for effective use of laptops in the cruisers. Not only would we have to duplicate our entire radio infrastructure, there simply are not enough contiguous frequencies available to implement the system anyway. We are currently looking at several different resolutions to this problem; however, each is costly.
The software required for this system is probably the most costly. Not only do you have to pay for licensing, you must also pay yearly maintenance fees. There are several different software vendors that specialize in this area but none of them are cheap.
Knowing the issues involved with this project, particularly the fact that the cost will in all probability exceed $500,000, Whittle has time and again stressed that we find the best solution in terms of cost and operation. The bottom line is there is no cheap way to do this and do it right. Without considering all of these factors, if we just put laptops in cars for the sake of campaign promises, they will not be useful for anything except playing Solitaire.
Ron Martin, CISSP
Columbia County Sheriff's Office
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