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Ventura County

Sheriff's Officials Welcome High-Tech Windfall

Crime: The department plans to spend latest $750,000 federal grant to add more mobile capability to its advanced computer system.

September 06, 2002|HOLLY J. WOLCOTT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Imagine law enforcement officers scanning driver's licenses like credit cards to issue traffic tickets and lineups taking place in squad cars equipped with computer screens.

Or patrol cars so loaded with technology that they offer satellite map displays with blinking dots to indicate crime scenes and digitized directions that offer the fastest routes to get there.

With the announcement this week that an additional $750,000 in federal money is on its way, Ventura County sheriff's officials say they have moved much closer to making that kind of futuristic policing possible.

"We have come so far already, but this will allow us to make significant progress," said Cmdr. Brent Morris, supervisor of the sheriff's technical services bureau.

The latest windfall marks the third time the U.S. Department of Justice has invested in Ventura County's Integrated Justice Information System.

Since 1999, the Sheriff's Department has received nearly $3 million to develop a computer system that links data and investigative information from several policing agencies. Officials hope to receive a grant for an additional $1 million.

"This technology, which was important before last year's terrorist attacks, has taken on new significance," said U.S. Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley), who lobbied for the funds.

Sheriff's officials plan to use the latest grant to outfit 90 patrol cars with new mobile computers that can run the advanced software, Morris said.

The new computers will replace older models that perform only basic functions, such as checking driver's license, car registration and arrest warrant data.

In the department's remaining 100 vehicles--many of which are unmarked cars--detectives use portable laptop computers.

After the new computers are installed, which should be within the next six months, officials want to add software that will integrate the department's dispatch center with its patrol units.

For example, the software would allow a call for police help to automatically appear on a patrol car's computer screen, accompanied by a beep, that would alert the nearest deputy to roll to a crime scene.

Currently, dispatchers at the department's headquarters in Ventura primarily receive telephone calls for service and then radio patrol cars.

Within the next few years, Morris hopes deputies will be able to check probation and inmate records and photos from their patrol cars, as well as type reports and electronically file them.

The software that would allow users to scan driver's licenses, create computerized photo lineups and access graphic mapping will be compatible with the new computers but will require more funding, he said.

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