BANGOR – Laptop computers with wireless connections soon may provide another link between Penobscot County law enforcement agencies and the information they need in the field.
The Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office and six Bangor area law enforcement agencies are seeking $267,000 in federal Homeland Security funds to cover the purchase of in-cruiser terminals that can connect officers in the field with local, state and national databases.
The terminals, already in use by the Maine State Police, would allow deputies and police officers to spend more time in the field and less time driving back and forth to the office to complete or pick up paperwork, Penobscot County commissioners were told Tuesday.
“It just makes us more efficient in the work that we have to do,” Lt. Keith Hotaling of the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office said during a meeting break. During the session, Sheriff Glenn Ross was seeking some county funds to cover the monthly cell phone costs associated with the service.
As well as the potential to reduce driving costs and wear and tear on the vehicles, the terminals would allow deputies and police officers to check for suspended driver’s licenses and do on-the-spot warrant checks from their cruisers, without having to tie up dispatchers at the Penobscot Regional Communications Center. They still would need a dispatcher to confirm the warrants.
Many warrant arrests stem from motor vehicle stops, law enforcement officers said. From time to time, officers or deputies have released someone stopped without doing a records check through dispatch, only to find later that the person was wanted on a warrant. The terminals would make it easier for officers to do on-the-scene checks.
To cover anticipated operations costs, Ross requested an increase in his department’s telephone service costs, which include landlines and other cellular phones, next year to $35,000, an increase of $10,000. At the urging of Commissioner Peter Baldacci, the commissioners reduced the total request to $32,000.
In reducing the request, Baldacci acknowledged budget constraints and expectations that the department wouldn’t expend its entire phone budget.
Still, the commissioners threw in their support for the project.
“This is something that can save a little later, and it provides a better service for our officers,” Commissioner Stephen Stanley said.
The county tried laptops in its cruisers about six years ago, but county officials said the cellular phone coverage wasn’t what it is today and that there were many dropped calls and frustrations.
The mobile data terminal project still needs funding through the Maine Emergency Management Agency, which will have to weigh this project among others vying for $2.6 million in Homeland Security funds in Maine. A decision could come in December, a MEMA official said Tuesday.
The law enforcement agencies involved in the project are those in Veazie, Brewer, Orono, Old Town, Hampden and the University of Maine Department of Public Safety.