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Sheriff's deputies to get battlefield-tested technology

Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department patrol cars will be outfitted with computer systems used in Iraq that will enable deputies to respond to calls faster and get data on suspects instantly.

November 25, 2011|By W.J. Hennigan, Los Angeles Times
  • Seats and other parts of a Ford Excursion used by the Los Angeles County Sheriffs Department have been removed to install high-tech electronics as part of Raytheons $20-million contract.
Seats and other parts of a Ford Excursion used by the Los Angeles County Sheriffs… (Michael Robinson Chavez,…)

Battlefield technology is coming to the streets of Los Angeles County.

Starting this month, one of the nation's major military contractors is outfitting the Los Angeles County Sheriff Department's patrol cars with sophisticated computer systems and high-tech gadgetry that has been perfected for the battlefield.

At a total cost to taxpayers of $20 million, Raytheon Co. promises to deliver technology that will enable deputies on the road to sort through key intelligence information in mere seconds, where it once took hours or days. In a single roadside stop, they'll have the ability to run a background check using a searchable FBI database — or pull up a suspect's mug shots or even obtain biometric data, such as fingerprints — on the spot.

Technology once reserved for analysts in sheriff's stations is being taken by deputies as they investigate crime scenes, chase down suspects and answer calls for help as the need for on-the-spot data becomes more urgent in sprawling urban areas.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department is the largest in the nation, covering more than 4,000 square miles and a population of more than 10 million.

A few years ago, Sheriff's Deputy Jim Walton received a call regarding a baby not breathing in an area he didn't know. He had to refer to his map, look up the street in the master index, find the location on the map, then determine the quickest route to get there.

"With an urgent call like a baby not breathing, it's very stressful because you want to get to the call quick. You want to get there first," he said. "When I responded to it, the fire department had already been there for several minutes because I couldn't find the street and didn't know where it was."

The new system automatically identifies the location on the mobile computer and leads him turn by turn to the doorstep.

"The old paper maps are not the way to go," Walton said. "The new system is much better, and it'll help us to get to calls quicker."

The department's 2,500 vehicles didn't have GPS devices or digital maps on board. Now each vehicle will have a Panasonic Toughbook laptop equipped with direct Internet access linked to a library of resources including mobile mapping with direct routing capability.

The new "technology propels the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department into the 21st century," said Sheriff Lee Baca, about replacing the old computer systems built around 1985. "Raytheon worked closely with our sheriff's deputies, engineers and technicians to integrate the latest public safety technologies and capabilities into our vehicles."

Daniel J. Crowley, president of Raytheon's Network Centric Systems, noted that soldiers in Iraq face many of the same challenges trying navigate and communicate while on streets of Baghdad. The Sheriff's Department's new equipment is being used by security forces in the Green Zone in Baghdad to police the area.

For decades, Raytheon has been providing state-of-the-art electronics and integrating complex communications systems for the military.

"The military's situation overseas may be much different from the Sheriff's Department, but the need is basically the same," Crowley said. "Our goal is to give them capabilities at an affordable cost."

Because the technology is battle-tested, the Waltham, Mass., company can integrate the system at a relatively low cost, he said. Much of the technology was developed and fine-tuned by the company's 12,000 employees in Southern California, including at its 1.7-million-square-foot electronics enclave in El Segundo and facilities in Fullerton.

The deal with the Sheriff's Department is one of many that Raytheon has in the works for the public safety sector — seen by many analysts as a steady stream of revenue for military contractors at a time when Pentagon spending is expected to decline.

Loren Thompson, defense policy analyst for the Lexington Institute in Arlington, Va., said the U.S. defense industry is facing greater uncertainty now than at any time since the Cold War ended. Diversifying outside of defense offers contractors a refuge.

He points out that Boeing Co. makes commercial jets and General Dynamics Corp. owns business jet maker Gulfstream Aerospace Corp. Raytheon has a robust electronics division that can easily transition to commercial uses.

"It's a safe bet that defense spending is going to drop," Thompson said. "Raytheon can leverage the development of the technology it made for the military and win smaller contracts."

Although these sorts of civil contracts, such as the $20-miillion L.A. County deal, aren't comparable to the staggering sums of money involved in Pentagon contracts, Raytheon is optimistic about the market. The company has worked in the civil sector for a decade, but recently has been increasing its focus on it. The small contracts keep its engineers, technicians, and Southland suppliers busy.

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