Police scanners are expected to become virtually obsolete in Carson City soon when all fire and police department calls will be transmitted via car-mounted laptop computers.
The new technology, costing $250,000, sends deputies and fire personnel to calls without broadcasting one word over the radio.
"Everybody in this town has a scanner," said Carson City Sheriff's Deputy Gary Underhill. "Right now, we have the criminal element listening to what we are doing, but with this it's impossible for them to know."
Police officers will have at their fingertips access to crime information from local, state and national databases. They can now link directly to Department of Motor Vehicle computers for driver's license and registration information. All of these requests are returned to the patrol car within seconds.
Sheriff Kenny Furlong said the 40 vehicles in his department will be outfitted with the Mobile Data Computers by Friday. Fourteen additional computers will be installed in fire department vehicles.
Deputies will use their Panasonic Toughbook laptops to write reports, keep logs, look up state laws, and send messages from car to car.
"This actually makes our jobs a lot stealthier," Underhill said.
The system won't eliminate radios - especially when deputies need to talk to each other in emergencies - but he said the computer will cut down scanner traffic by 85 to 90 percent.
On Wednesday, Underhill maneuvered his black-and-white Chevy Tahoe through Carson City, his left hand on the steering wheel and his right resting on the laptop's keyboard. With the touch of a icon on the screen, he is able to scroll through the calls he's responded to that day, see where other deputies are at that moment, and see what calls are pending. He can also access data on how many times a particular address has been visited by police.
After 16 hours of training, Underhill, who used a similar program as a deputy in Phoenix, first used the laptop Saturday. By Wednesday, the 18-year veteran was fairly comfortable with his new companion.
"You almost have to have one eye on the screen and another on the road," he explained.
When Underhill receives a message, there is a ringing sound. When he is being sent to a call, there's a sound reminiscent of the video game Centipede.
Furlong says the computers will also lighten the workload for the city's strained fire and police dispatchers.
"Communication workers will still have to receive calls from the public, but they input it once and they're done," he said.
Emergencies such as shootings and chases will still likely be broadcast over the radio because of their urgency.
"If deputies choose to use that radio, they won't be in trouble for that," the sheriff said. "These computers are tools for our deputies - whatever it takes to get the job done."
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