Salem Community Foundation funds tablets for police cruisers

SALEM – Citizens can expect to see Salem police cruisers patrolling more and parked less behind city hall now that officers will have computer tablets in their vehicles.

The Salem Community Foundation granted the department $56,424 for the purchase of five mobile data terminals with software for the reporting system officers use for their reports and mobile broadband hotspots for wireless access.

The department also received two MDTs from the Department of Homeland Security and already had secured two from the Office of Criminal Justice Services through grants. This will give them nine total.

Salem Police Chief J.T. Panezott said the MDTs will increase officer safety during a call by giving them quicker access to information about where they’re going and the people they’ll likely come across, including the history of past calls.

“That officer’s going to know who he’s dealing with before he gets out of the car,” Panezott said.

He explained the MDTs will prove especially valuable for traffic stops.

“Instead of bogging down our dispatchers with every call, officers will be able to do their own homework,” he said.

Officers will be able to check vehicle registrations themselves through the Law Enforcement Officer Data System, accessing owner information, the owner’s past history and whether a vehicle has been reported stolen. They’ll know about any alerts related to a vehicle and the registered owner and whether there are any active arrest warrants for the owner or whether the owner has a permit to carry a concealed weapon.

Currently, officers have to call in a registration to a dispatcher and wait for the information. They may have already made contact with the driver before knowing anything about the person.

Another advantage will be the ability to identify expired or revoked registrations and suspended driver’s licenses more readily, ultimately making the streets safer for motorists. Officers will have access to a driver’s photo so they’ll know if the person is who they say they are.

Panezott said he’s expecting the citations for driving under suspension and expired plates to increase along with the number of traffic stops, which could also lead to more drug arrests. Plans also call for the securing of printers for each car so they’ll be able to print e-tickets, cutting down on ticket-writing time.

With their entire reporting management system available on the MDTs, officers will be able to write their reports in their cars instead of having to come into the police station. In their cars, they’ll have access to everything they can access in the office.

“I want to get as much out of them as I can. I don’t want them stuck in here doing paperwork when they can be out on the street,” he said.

Obviously for some situations, they’ll have to come into the office, but the idea is to keep them out on the streets and in the neighborhoods more where they can keep an eye out for crime and help citizens in need.

SCF President John Tonti said it’s fantastic for the community and the department, calling the grant proposal fulfilling. SCF grants coordinator Melissa Moffett Costa said the MDTs will be wonderful tools for the police and noted “we’re touching every walk of life through this.”

Besides the access to information and reporting capabilities, officers will be able to use the MDTs to take photographs or video and they’ll be able to communicate with each other and possibly other departments through instant messaging. They’ll be able to access security info for schools and businesses.

“I think it’s wonderful. The foundation has faith in the officers here and the job that they’re doing,” Panezott said. “There’s no way we would have been able to do this without the assistance of the foundation.”

He said the officers can’t wait and the foundation funding the purchase made them feel good and appreciated. The department has been behind in technology, with all the departments surrounding the city already having computers in cruisers. With the tablets, the city’s taking a leap ahead.

Panezott gave credit to Ptl. Brandon Smith for writing the grant. Smith attended grant-writing school and learned the ins and outs of finding grants. Next up for the department will be trying to replace the video equipment in the cruisers.