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larger police agencies have a requirement for a wireless mobile data terminal system. MDTs offer several obvious benefits
to police departments:
• radio transmissions are more secure (scanners cannot listen in on MDT based digital dialog)
• workload management
in the communication center is improved
• time utilization statistics are collected which enable better time management
of officers and thus, greater efficiency
Police Mobile Data Terminal (criminals hate 'em!)
throughout the United Statesare implementing field mobile computing systems at a rapid rate.This technology has evolved
since the early 1960s from simple Message Status Terminals (MST), to more advanced laptop computer systems.The
early MST systems served as communication devices between dispatch and the field unit (Nunn, 1993).The original
intent was to reduce radio traffic.The devices that were first introduced in the late 1960s early 1970s simply
provided field units with the ability to press a status key that would reflect a status change, e.g. arrived at scene, available,
etc. These terminals were only one way communications devices.Field officers could update their status but dispatchers
could not send information to these devices.
In the late 1970s and
early 1980s the Mobile Data Terminal (MDT) was developed.These devices provided two-way communication between
dispatch, and the field units.They consisted of a screen for display of data, a micro processor, and a keyboard.The use of these devices gave dispatchers the ability to simultaneously capture call data and send dispatch information
to the MDT, without voice radio transmission.Officers were able to view this data on their terminals.Use of the MDT in the vehicle allowed officers to enter their status as a call progressed without radio transmission.The field officers were also able to perform standard want and warrant checks on persons and vehicles.Information
was returned, and appeared directly on their screen.This eliminated the need for dispatchers to perform the
inquiry and report its results over the radio.They also provided car to car communication without the use of
voice radios. While these devices improved the conditions for dispatchers, they did very little
to enhance the tasks field officers are required to perform.Early research indicates that field computing benefits
areas within the department other than patrol (Kraemer and Danziger, 1985; Northrup, Kraemer, and King, 1993).There
is evidence to suggest that when officers receive information they can act upon, the technology then becomes useful and results
in field officer task improvements (Nunn, 1993).
In an evaluation research project of five north
agencies, Nunn was unable to show any efficiency gains at the field officer level with the exception of recoveries of stolen
vehicles (Nunn, 1994).With the new MDT system, officers gained the capability of inquiring on vehicle license
plates without having to request the dispatcher perform the search for them.This resulted in many more vehicle
license plate inquiries and thus increased hits on stolen vehicles (Nunn, 1994). Other research shows
that detectives’ efficiencies improve from the use of field computing (Northrup et al., 1993; Kraemer and Danziger,
1985: Kraemer, Danziger, Dunkel and King, 1993).In their study of detectives, Kraemer et al., (1993) found that
detectives’ productivity improved with information technology that provided ad hoc inquiry capabilities.This
type of access to information allowed detectives to search vast amounts of information by formulating searches that pertained
to cases on which they were working (Northrup, et al. 1993; Kramer, Danziger, Dunkle and King, 1993).
police departments began to transition from the MDT to laptop computers in their vehicles, a trend to use the laptop for field
report writing developed.The popular COPS-MORE program fueled this development and proliferation of these systems.The laptops replaced the MDT and offered greater flexibility and capability.
are no official statistics available, current estimates are that 25 – 30% of the nation’s police departments have
implemented laptop computers.
the proliferation of field computing, we have seen many articles claiming success of laptop technology appear in the trade
journals.Many received national attention as being model programs.Empirical research does not
support these claims, particularly at the end-user level.In a study conducted of several police agencies, Rocheleau
(1993) discovered that there is a significant difference between the perception of how field computing has affected efficiency
In this study, Rocheleau (1993) discovered that when surveying individuals in the departments
that implemented this newer technology, upper management believed that field reporting significantly improved task efficiency.This research showed a significant gap between management’s perspectives of how computerized field-computing
benefits the department and how the field officers perceived its benefit.The data showed that field officers
did not perceive field computing to be a benefit in performing their jobs.
The research results confirmed
the officer’s opinions of this technology’s usefulness (see Rocheleau, 1993).
The Theory of Task-Technology Fit (Goodhue, 1988) offers a possible explanation
of this disparity between management and the end-user’s perception of the usefulness of field mobile computing. The
Task-Technology Fit model represents an advanced way of looking at how people process information.It confirms
why people process information and how technology aids in performing job tasks.Goodhue (1995) proposed that
information systems have a positive impact on performance only when there is correspondence between their functionality and
the task requirements of users (Goodhue, 1995).
Goodhue (1995) contends that Task-Technology Fit
is the degree to which a technology assists an individual in performing his or her portfolio of tasks.As the
gap between the requirements of a task and the functionality of a technology widens, the Task-Technology Fit is reduced (Goodhue,
1995).At any given level of utilization, a system with higher Task-Technology Fit will lead to better performance
since it more closely meets the task needs of the individual (Goodhue, 1995).