City police officers will stop talking and let their fingers do the walking in running instant checks for wanted criminals and stolen vehicles.
By late October, officers who had to radio police dispatchers to make the checks will be able to do them directly from patrol cars on new touch-screen computer terminals.
The mobile data terminals are being installed in various police vehicles including those used by officers in the road patrol, Roving Anti-Crime units, and traffic and detective units, as well as those of some police captains and lieutenants.
The 22 terminals were purchased with a $178,000 federal COPS (Community Oriented Policing Services) grant to enhance officer safety and to make police operations more efficient, Police Superintendent Christopher J. Carlin said.
Nineteen of the terminals are installed in police vehicles, with the other three initially used for backup.
Although the department is one of the last in the area to install computer units in police cars, Carlin said this has the advantage of providing officers with updated technology.
"Now I can stop a car and know in 20 or 30 seconds if it's stolen or not," Traffic Officer Richard King said. "As fast as I punch it in, it comes back. If the registered owner is wanted or is a dangerous felon, I'll know right away and can call for backup."
"It's good to know what you've got and who you're dealing with," he added.
Getting information the old-fashioned way - from a dispatcher - can take up to 10 minutes, King said. He also said the computers expedite such tasks as accident investigations by quickly providing vital information such as whether those involved are licensed drivers and have car insurance.
As a result, officer can move on quickly to other duties.
"Now we won't have to bother the dispatchers all the time," Officer Raymond Maietta said. "We can just do it ourselves."
Robert J. Monroe, police senior communications technician, said the computers should make police work much safer and more efficient for officers as well as much less hectic for dispatchers.
"Dispatchers, during busy times, . . . get overloaded when several (police) cars ask for data," he said. "It may take a few minutes to get the information on a license plate. The big advantage with the (terminals) is the officers can get the information themselves and save a lot of time."
"That's especially good for officer safety because they can tell right away if the car is stolen or the registered owner is wanted for some reason. Now they'll know what they're dealing with and whether they might need assistance," Monroe said.
This will free police dispatchers to assist officers in other ways, Monroe said. With so many calls coming in, "Sometimes it's very difficult to dispatch calls, answer the phone and get data for officers," he explained. "This will relieve some of the workload for a dispatcher so he can do other checks, like obtaining local, non-criminal warrants and addresses and other information" that will not be accessible on the terminals for some time.
Monroe said he also is setting up five or six lap-top computers that can be used just like the terminals, but are portable and can be used anywhere.
The terminals are installed directly into the police cars with the monitor and keyboard on the dashboard and the computer and cold pack, a climate-control device that protects sensitive computer equipment in cold weather, on a sliding shelf in the trunk, Monroe said.
Carlin also said the terminals "should provide more incentive for the guys to run license plate checks for stolen cars . . . and outstanding warrants" because they won't have to spend a lot of time waiting for information."
The terminals will be tied in with the databases of the State Police Information Network and the FBI's National Crime Information Center so they can get immediate access to such information as stolen cars and people wanted on misdemeanor or felony charges.
Soon, possibly in January, the computers also will have access to data on local, non-criminal warrants involving less serious offenses such as failing to pay parking fines or appear in court, Carlin said.
Such data will become available once the Falls department hooks into the Niagara County Sheriff's Department main frame computer, which has access to data from all police agencies in the county except the Lockport Police