High-tech tool could connect police radios

Charleston Post and Courier
August 1, 2000

The Navy’s high-tech engineering center at the Charleston Naval Weapons Station is developing computer software that will help civilian police talk to other agencies even when their radios use different frequencies and equipment.

On Wednesday, engineers from SPAWAR, the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center, demonstrated the new software to law enforcement and EMS officials from the Charleston area.

They used Charleston County’s Emergency Preparedness Center in North Charleston to show how it works.

“This technology allows you to use the equipment you have now,” said David Neumann, a SPAWAR project engineer. “This is not going to be high-dollar stuff.”

Software Adaptive Advanced Computing is a term Neumann used to describe the new system that lets police computers quickly link different radios and wireless data transmitters.

Police, EMS and fire departments often can’t talk with each other or transmit and receive text and pictures over each others’ mobile computers.

Police cruisers nowadays are crammed with radios and cell phones in an effort to deal with the problem. Still, officers have trouble communicating.

The key to the new system is a personal computer interface card, or PCI, that SPAWAR engineers have helped develop for the military, Neumann said.

Once the card is inserted into most police computers and the software is installed, the dispatcher – or in some cases the officer in the field – can link several radios simply by calling up their names on a computer screen.

Neumann demonstrated the system by linking a Charleston County sheriff’s radio with a Hanahan police radio and a so-called family talk two-way radio that anyone can buy in a store.

Operators were able to carry on a three-way conversation even though each radio operated on a different pre-set frequency.

Charleston County Sheriff Al Cannon said he was excited about the new device.

Cannon said he would seek funding, possibly through federal grants, to install the system.

“We’re currently using a tri-county system that we installed with a $3 million grant that Sen. (Fritz) Hollings helped us get,” Cannon said.

But the system demonstrated Wednesday would help police communicate with even more officers and emergency personnel.

Police departments often work through the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center to identify new devices.

SPAWAR’s role, Neumann said, would be to “act as an honest broker” in dealing with contractors and vendors.

The new software also would let police and other agencies:

Transmit and receive images and written messages and documents.

Show the location of various units on a computer-generated map. This lets commanders move units quickly as situations change. Instantly record everything that happens during a traffic stop or arrest. Officers might even attach small video cameras to their uniforms, much as they now use mobile radio microphones attached to their clothes.

Mount Pleasant Police Chief Roddy Perry said he, too, was interested in the system, especially since a large number of officers and others could quickly be linked.

For example, “if you had a child abduction, you could multiply by 100 the number of eyes you would have in the field, looking for the victim,” Perry said.

Even taxi drivers and others who usually have no direct radio links with police could be called up in an emergency.

The new software also would allow agencies to encrypt, or scramble, their radio messages.

That could be a drawback for people who use scanners to listen to emergency radio calls. Encrypted messages likely would sound like static on receivers not equipped to decode them.

Neumann said SPAWAR would limit distribution of the software to law enforcement and other agencies that handle emergencies. And, he said, the Navy would take steps to make sure that computer “hackers” couldn’t invade the system.

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