By Jim McKay | Staff Writer

With laptops as their compasses, officers in Marietta, Ga., use GIS and everything under the sun -- and the sun, too -- to promote a safe, electronic city.

Marietta, Ga., is developing a reputation as a pioneer in government technology, and as part of its goal of offering a city online, Marietta is retooling its public-safety system with high-tech toys.

Already in place is a system that allows police officers in the field to run criminal checks and license plate checks from their vehicles without calling in to dispatch. The system also allows officers to file reports from laptops in the vehicles rather than having to return to the precinct. By the end of the year, the city will have placed at the

hands of police and fire personnel a system that will graphically display the location of every police and fire vehicle.

Marietta has been photographed aerially to record every parcel of land within the city limits. A browser can "tour the city," calling it up parcel by parcel on the screen. The browser can also zoom in on the parcel or zoom out to get a wide-angle perspective.

The mapping will be combined with a wireless network, which was due to be rolled out in August, and an Automatic Vehicle Locator system (AVL) to be implemented this fall. The AVL will monitor the whereabouts of each patrol car, fire truck or utility vehicle via a chip in the antenna. The chip will report to the main server and indicate on the

map where each vehicle is located. Cops on patrol will be able to call up the maps on their laptops.

Car 54, Where Are You?

In fact, because of the networking, anyone with a PC could call up a map and locate squad cars or fire trucks. Each squad car and fire truck will "report back" to the police precinct or fire station at predetermined intervals, perhaps every minute.

"A police dispatcher who has a true, life-threatening situation in progress can look at the screen and see that Jones is two blocks away even though its not his designated area, whereas the officer who is assigned to that area may be a mile away," said Lt. David Sides of the Marietta Police Department. "[The dispatcher] is going to bring up Jones and tell him hes got a priority call in somebody elses area and tell him he needs to get out there."

The mapping will also be used for crime analysis. By tracking crimes and inputting data from the HTE CAD system and linking the address information to the GIS system, law enforcement personnel can determine trends in criminal activity and plan accordingly.

"We are very much a visual society," said Sides. "If you can show somebody a map and show them how over a period of time a chronological change has occurred, then both the people in the street and the managers within an agency are able to make better decisions on what to do with the resources.

"We can use the data to allocate our manpower resources," continued Sides. "If a citizen calls for a policeman, they dont want to hear about how there isnt one available. They want to know when the cops showing up. It doesnt matter if you put a lawn mower in a shed two months ago and now its gone, the citizen wants somebody out there to help them deal with their problem."

Plotting Crimes

Equipping patrol cars with laptops has become common throughout the country. But the idea of using graphics to identify the location of patrol cars is unique. And it is Mariettas long-term commitment to the integration of its Geographical Information

Jim McKay, Justice and Public Safety Editor  |  Justice and Public Safety Editor