Police ponder portable computers

Preparing for when Telecom switches off CDMA mobile network

The police are considering buying handheld or portable computers that could be used to track cars and officers and later to electronically fingerprint and photograph suspects stopped on the street.

Police won the right to capture biometric information, such as fingerprints, of people they intended to charge outside the police station environment in the Policing Act – passed by the former Labour government in 2008.

The devices, which spokeswoman Claire Harman said were "very much at the concept stage", would replace computers installed in a small number of police cars that will become redundant in 2012 when Telecom switches off its CDMA mobile network.

Ms Harman said police were looking at handheld, in-car portable and fixed in-car options. "Neither fingerprinting, nor photographing would be deployed as part of the initial rollout."

Police Association president Greg O'Connor said there was a thirst for new technology among younger recruits.

"We have got a very tech-savvy generation of police coming in who will soak up any opportunity to use new technology to the extent that some will even use their own when they can.

"The ultimate is being able to input data just once and for police to be able to verify people's details on the spot. There is still too much duplication of data entry."

Police began installing "automatic vehicle locators" in 2004 that can track vehicles by satellite, helping police set cordons and direct cars to incidents.

In 2006, police began fitting cars with mobile data terminals that also let officers carry out checks on vehicles and suspects without having to radio their details back to base.

The terminals instead call up records directly from the Police's National Intelligence Application over Telecom's CDMA mobile network.

However, after an initial spurt of activity, investment in technology appeared to slow.

Ms Harman said the locators and terminals had been fitted to just 156 cars in Auckland and the Waikato – 5 per cent of the police fleet – and no more were being installed.

"The existing solution is 'ring-fenced' as it is relatively aged technology, so no additional terminals are being rolled out."

The decision to stop the rollout would have happened regardless of Telecom's decision to axe the CDMA network, she said. "It is a planned standard technology lifecycle, scheduled to be retired early to mid-2012."

Telecom will switch off its 3G CDMA data service, EVDO, at the end of the month but this will not affect police as the existing terminals use a slower CDMA communications protocol, 1xRTT.

Ms Harman said the new police computers would be capable of communicating via both Telecom's XT network and Vodafone's mobile network.

Computers in as many as 563 ambulances which were still being installed last year will also be affected by the CDMA switch-off. A spokeswoman for St John said it was exploring alternatives.

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