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COMPUTERS IN CARS EASE POLICE CHORES

Lap-top computers installed in patrol cars are making it easier for traffic and warrant checks to be made rapidly.

Now Erie County is making it easier for the 19 police agencies outside Buffalo to have them, thanks to a $1 million budget item.

On the steps of the Rath County Office Building today, representatives of Hamburg, Depew and City of Tonawanda police were to join County Executive Gorski in heralding the program.

"These terminals allow patrol officers to save time and free up dispatchers for more important duties," Gorski said. "Perhaps more importantly, the terminals permit silent car-to-car and car-to-base communications" not susceptible to eavesdropping with private police monitors.

"They really are a great tool," said Orchard Park Police Chief Sam McCune.

"We bought one a year ago, got another one from the county program and have been promised at least one more," he said. "They free up our radio frequency and the officer can punch in the plate number, then run the owner's name. We've made a lot of stops and arrests for driving with suspended licenses -- they're good in traffic checks."

"Best of all, they are user-friendly," said the Orchard Park chief. "There's a touch screen and you can use the 'Columbus method' of typing -- launch a finger and see where it lands. You don't really have to be a whiz at typing to use them."

But that is only the beginning. When phase two of the program is completed, a Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) unit will be activated whenever an officer keys the radio or computer.

"That will give the base an instant location of that patrol car," said Peter Matthias, director of information processing in the county's Central Police Services unit.

Last year several suburban police chiefs met with Gorski to ask for aid. West Seneca, East Aurora, Lackawanna and Cheektowaga had already purchased computers using federal law enforcement grants, and Amherst had also bought some of the $6,000 in-car units.

This year's county budget earmarked $1 million for 100 units and to upgrade communication towers, install servers and buy and install software.

"We have 70 terminals on the network now," said Matthias.

Every police agency in the county has at least one unit. Depew has three, Cheektowaga and Amherst five, Lancaster town and village three, Hamburg town and village four, and the City of Tonawanda two. The Sheriff's patrol unit has four and will be allocated 10 more.

By the end of the year, or at the latest, by the end of March 1999, the remaining units will be allocated and Central Police Services will be up and running with its data servers and three dedicated radio frequencies to cover the county.

That information database also will serve the State Police Clarence Barracks and Buffalo State College patrols, which have purchased their own in-car computers.

Buffalo maintains a separate system, purchased with federal aid, Matthias said.

City of Tonawanda Chief Mark Winters also hailed the county computer program.

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