Hi-tech brings Md. police up to speed

OCEAN CITY, Md. (AP) Some Maryland State Police patrol cars had little modern technology when Trooper Jared Reichenbach started working in 2002.
If he suspected someone was speeding, he had to pace the car to determine how fast it was traveling. To get information from state databases, he had to radio the dispatcher. The radio itself was very basic – it connected only to Reichenbach’s Berlin barracks.
And forget about video cameras.
But these days, troopers have plenty of digital backup in their sedans, making them more efficient and effective.
Trooper Reichenbach has in his patrol car a radar gun, video camera, touch-screen laptop and an admittedly bulky radio that can connect with any law enforcement unit in the area.
“It’s part of the mobile office,” he said. “I definitely rely on this stuff now.”
The camera is mounted just right of the rearview mirror. A drop-down video screen, about the size of a bar of soap, shows a live feed or plays back taped footage. A VCR in the trunk records to a VHS tape; only a supervisor is allowed to handle it.
The camera offers instant feedback on an officer’s and suspect’s behavior during a traffic stop or a pursuit. It’s a useful tool for resolving complaints quickly, Trooper Reichenbach said. Old footage is used for training.
In-car cameras arrived in late the 1990s, said Elena Russo, a state police spokeswoman. Now they’re used in about 600 vehicles in the statewide fleet of patrol cars.
The cameras are a “silent witness” that can give information to both parties about a traffic stop after the fact, she said.
Each trooper who has a camera in his or her vehicle is equipped with a wireless microphone, worn on the uniform. Troopers are required to tell people that they’re under video and audio surveillance.
Although some people act out, most behave appropriately during a traffic stop when told they’re on camera, Trooper Reichenbach said.
Some people think they’re on “COPS,” he said, mocking an over-the-shoulder wave. “No, you’re not on ‘COPS.’ “
State police are working to move from VHS tapes to DVDs, Ms. Russo said.
Another tool close by is a touch-screen Panasonic ToughBook laptop. State police started using them in 2005. They’re connected to police and Motor Vehicle Administration databases. A trooper runs a driver’s ID under a bar-code scanner to pull up – without any typing or searching – the driver’s personal information, such as prior traffic stops, outstanding warrants, even the driver’s license photo.
If a citation is issued, the information is wirelessly beamed to the main District Court in Annapolis as the trooper prints out a ticket – the only piece of paper involved in the process.
“It’s not the fastest thing in the world,” Trooper Reichenbach said. “But we’re definitely up to date on technology.”

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