Originally created 02/28/01

High-tech cars help crime fight



Richmond County sheriff's Deputy Virgil D'Antignac pulls up to a traffic light and decides to check the tag of a vehicle in front of him.

Instead of calling the sheriff's records division, he types the tag number into the terminal mounted in his patrol car, and in about 10 seconds he knows the name and address of the owner, the date of purchase and whether the tag belongs on the car.

Later, he types in the license number of a driver he has stopped, and in seconds he knows whether the license has been suspended and, if so, the reason why.

Deputy D'Antignac is one of 60 Richmond County deputies who have gone high-tech with mobile data terminals - computers in patrol cars. By week's end, 20 more officers will have the terminals mounted in their cars, allowing them to check the status of vehicles and drivers in seconds.

"The terminals allow them quicker response time from (the Georgia Crime Information Center) on tag or license checks," said sheriff's Col. Gary Powell. "They no longer have to call the records division and have them input information and wait for the results."

Before getting the computers, when officers stopped a driver with a valid license, they had to switch to the records channel on the radio, call in the information and wait in line with the other officers in the county who had called in before them, Deputy Kyle Bruce said.

"Sometimes, we didn't always run the licenses because on a normal traffic stop it could take up to 20 to 25 minutes for us to get the results back from our records bureau," he said. "Sometimes it's an inconvenience to keep somebody stopped on the side of I-20 for 20 minutes. And now that we have computers in our car, we type it in out there at the scene and the results come back in a matter of seconds. It saves time for the public as well as us."

Since the terminals were installed last week, deputies have identified several stolen vehicles in Augusta, Col. Powell said.

Before buying the terminals, Richmond County officials visited officers in Montgomery, Ala., to see their mobile computers in operation. The Montgomery police said they have increased their number of stolen vehicle catches fourfold since getting the terminals, Col. Powell said.

Officers can also run checks on stolen items, such as guns, that have been recovered, Col. Powell said.

Another advantage is that deputies can send messages from one patrol car to another and converge on a scene without having to broadcast their plans on the radio system, which many criminals monitor.

The computers are portable and may be removed and locked in the car's trunk or taken into the patrol substation. They are also equipped with software that allows deputies to type their reports and print them out in the substations.

Each computer cost $8,500. A federal grant paid 90 percent of the cost, and the city paid 10 percent, said Mary Ann Gibbs, sheriff's department budget specialist.

Deputies in special operations, such as traffic, crime suppression and housing patrol, are getting the computers first. The sheriff's office plans to buy 30 more terminals this year with grant money.

Long-range goals include dispatching officers from headquarters by computer instead of putting the calls out on the radio.

Deputies are enthusiastic about the terminals and those who don't have them can't wait to get them, Col. Powell said.

"I love it," Deputy D'Antignac said. "It's almost cut my work in half."

Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228.