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NISKAYUNA: Cop cars become rolling offices

Imagine stepping into a car that is a virtual office on wheels in which accessories like a detachable laptop and access to data is available at just the click of a button.

Instead of fumbling with file folders and paper reports, old-fashioned documents are replaced by e-mails and the dispatching of cars can be done without a radio or a scanner.

It is futurists' dream of wireless connection, easy communication, and efficiency that saves countless hours of manpower. And in Niskayuna, it is the way local police have been conducting business for the past several months.

The new system has received plaudits from town officials as a key efficiency measure in achieving greater police coverage throughout the suburban community.

It saves a lot of paperwork and keeps officers on the street where they can do more effective patrolling, said town board member Bill Chapman. "A couple of officers have told me that it really is very helpful in making their job easier."

"We started in the spring with the guys becoming comfortable with the new technology and getting used to how the system works, and we have been increasing its use ever since," said Police Chief Lewis Moskowitz. "So far we've even had an officer detach his laptop from the car and take a missing person's report while they were in someone's living room."

It all started with a state grant from the Governor's Traffic Safety Board that paid for the cost of purchasing and installing the new equipment in four of the department's six cars. Moskowitz was also able to steer a share of local seizure funds toward the project and used that money to pay for installing laptops and the needed technology into the remaining two cars.

"We began with using the system to write vehicle and traffic tickets, and file accident reports from the field, but we've been adding to that capability as we go along," Moskowitz said. "Now we are using the equipment for our records management system and a whole variety of reports can be filed from the field. It keeps the cars out in the field more and lets our officers have a greater presence out on the street. We're very pleased with how it works."

The technological shift puts Niskayuna on the cutting edge of modern policing by even allowing cars to be dispatched via e-mail when reporting to a crime scene.

"There have been concerns over the years about people with scanners being able to listen in to police dispatchers to avoid arrest, and this solves that concern," Moskowitz said.""

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