When Robert Green became Ewing’s first director of technology 12 years ago, VCRs were still used to record police dash cam footage.
Now, every patrol car is equipped with a private cloud-based communications network that allows officers to access all of the department’s data from any location. As technology has continued to advance, Green and other township employees have worked to ensure the police department grows alongside it.
From body cameras to the in-vehicle communications network, the department is working to streamline operations through the latest technology.
As a result of these upgrades, officers can now run lookups, fill out reports and access old reports and other data from inside their vehicles. Green said this has streamlined how officers work, creating an efficient way to process information throughout the system. Rather than driving back to the station just to fill out a 10-min ute report, they can now fill it out and submit it remotely while out on patrol.
“It makes a big difference to be able to self-serve themselves the information they need at any time,” Green said. “They don’t need to wait for a dispatcher to get to their request.”
The in-vehicle communications network is one of the biggest updates the department has made in recent years, changing how officers perform their day-to-day duties.
Every patrol car has a computer mobile data terminal with an LTE connection, the fastest connection currently available for wireless networks. A virtual private network creates the computer-to-computer connection between the vehicle and police headquarters, allowing officers to access data while on patrol.
The mobile data terminal, which Green said is similar to a laptop, is designed to handle extreme heat and cold and has the ability to run 24 hours a day.
Before the department upgraded to the LTE network, Green said the vehicles used an older modem, which only had a 3G connection. Therefore, the connection could only be used to track the officers’ GPS location and for very basic data communication. The majority of their communication had to be done through the radio.
Stuck with a slow connection, officers relied on dispatchers to get them information—running license plates, looking up old reports, etc. However, if the dispatchers were on 911 emergency calls, then the officer would have to wait until a dispatcher was free. Instead of waiting, officers can now look up the information themselves in a matter of seconds.
Green said the new technology not only takes a huge burden off the dispatchers, but it’s improving officer safety as well. Being able look up reports, addresses and other information in real time better prepares the officer to assess whatever situation they are in.
Despite everything being located on one communication network, Green said he isn’t concerned about someone hacking into the system.
“I feel very confident that it is a secure solution for us,” he said, adding that there is a strong encryption to prevent an attack.
Green said the township fist started to upgrade its cars about two years ago, and the network has been very reliable so far. The officers have overall been receptive to the new technology, which is the best sign that it’s an efficient system.
“The best technology solutions are ones that kind of melt into the background,” he said, adding that eventually using it just becomes second nature to use.
Implementing the new network was a joint-effort between many town officials, with Mayor Bert Steinmann pushing for the upgrades.
“The mayor had asked that we go ahead and outfit the remaining police cars with the newer technology,” Green said. “He gave us that directive and we went out and got what we needed.”
Having a mayor that advocates for new technology means a lot to Green, who believes technology is only going to become more important as time goes on.
“Tech isn’t some afterthought,” he said. “Tech is important to our daily lives, tech is important to how the community works, tech isn’t going away.”
Ewing has come a long way from Green’s early days in the department, when officers would have to change the VHS tapes in their trunks to be able to record on their dash cams.
“It was ridiculous. You have to change them after each shift. I can’t tell you how many of these tapes we had,” he said.
While Green is originally from Princeton Junction, he moved to Ewing 15 years ago. Working to improve the place he lives is one of the greatest joys of his job, he said.
“When I make sure that dispatch works effectively, I know that it works well for everybody in Ewing. I live in Ewing, and that’s important to me,” he said.
As technology continues to advance, Green plans to keep working to ensure Ewing is doing everything it can to assist its police force.
“I think tech is only going to get important as time goes on,” Green said. “Anything we can do to make our officers more effective and safer is a huge benefit to us in the community.”