Radio Net Connects Sheriff's Laptops

Concerns for public safety and a sprawling jurisdiction prompted the Brevard County Sheriff's Office to overhaul its centralized information system and implement an integrated network solution.

by / April 30, 1995
May 95

Level of Govt: Local

Function: Law Enforcement

Problem/Situation: The Brevard County, Fla., Sheriff's Office is responsible for a large area with few facilities in between jurisdictions.

Solution: A laptop-based communications system that allows for data exchange between officers.

Jurisdiction: Brevard County, Fla.

Vendors: Unisys

BREVARD COUNTY, Fla - Today, the Brevard County Sheriff's Office network and law enforcement information system are among the most innovative in Florida and are attracting the attention of officials from across the state. Located east of Orlando, Fla., and stretching along the Atlantic coast, Brevard County is a geographic nightmare for its sheriff's office. The Brevard County Sheriff's Office (BCSO) is responsible for enforcing the law in all county areas that do not fall under the authority of municipal law enforcement agencies. Consequently, its jurisdiction is as large as the county itself, some 80 miles long and 40 miles wide.

In addition to its headquarters in Titusville, BCSO operates precincts in the central and southern parts of the county and runs the county's detention center in Sharpes, a small town 15 miles south of Titusville. With such a large jurisdiction and long distances between facilities, BCSO considers electronic communications and data exchange critical to maintaining public safety.


In 1989, BCSO initiated a plan to develop a laptop-based computer network that would allow its 240 agents and deputies to file reports from the field. At the time, deputies were spending nearly half of their time writing reports, and BCSO required nearly two weeks to process them. Agents traveled to headquarters to thumb through paper-based files to conduct their investigations. BCSO believed the new laptop network would save time, reduce costs and vastly improve its ability to enforce the law.

The BCSO was correct. With an initial deployment of 20 laptops and remote terminals in 1989, the terminal network was off and running, and demand for the system quickly grew. But problems soon arose: the undersized mainframe struggled to keep up with the increased volume, and the existing data communications network proved to be unreliable.

The terminal network used low-speed leased telephone lines to connect copper wire-based local and remote terminal installations at administration headquarters and other BCSO facilities. This configuration was unreliable, because the communications network was dependent on the local phone company for service. The configuration also was susceptible to the powerful effects of lightning storms, which are common in central Florida and can easily knock out copper-wire networks.

Ray Dils BCSO's MIS Manager

"It became evident that our current system couldn't handle the workload," said Ray Dils, BCSO MIS Manager. "The multiplexers and leased lines were operating at full capacity, and we were constantly being hit by lightning. Instead of only upgrading the mainframe, we decided to go with a whole new setup."

Unisys Network Enable, a Unisys organization that specializes in the design, implementation, and support of advanced integrated open-systems networks, provided BCSO with a turnkey, open systems solution. Unisys engineers conferred with Dils, reviewed the requirements, and designed and implemented a solution that met BCSO's current and anticipated network needs.

The solution included a high-speed radio area network (RAN) that supported TCP/IP protocol and connected BCSO's four sites. For its headquarters and detention center, BCSO standardized on Ethernet as a transport over a fiber optic-cabling topology. These networks are extremely flexible and easily adapted to changing end user requirements. A Unisys UNIX-based client/server system provided the processing power and ensured interoperability with existing and future systems.

"I didn't have the expertise to install the fiber-optic lines and radio area network. It was all new to me," said Dils. "Unisys took responsibility for it all: project coordination, hardware and material procurement, system installation, testing, documentation, and user training."

The Network Enabled RAN solution eliminated the recurring costs of leased telephone lines and provided the bandwidth capacity required for high-speed video and data transmission. The solution is also highly reliable, since it is neither dependent on the local telephone company nor susceptible to the effects of lightning. More than 200 laptops and terminals are connected to the system, with capacity for future growth.


Shortly after activating the new network, BCSO began to experience intermittent communication problems. If the source of the problem was not quickly identified, the situation would become very serious for BCSO. The agents and deputies relied heavily on the network, but they would lose confidence in the new system if it wasn't reliable, said Dils.

Network Enable specialists and technicians returned to the site, and after a thorough investigation found that a faltering transmitter belonging to a nearby beeper company was interfering with BCSO's RAN microwave frequency. The beeper company was notified, its transmitter was repaired, and interference with BCSO's network was eliminated.

The new RAN permits BCSO administrators, agents and deputies to use the Brevard Uniform Laptop Law Enforcement Tracking (BULLET) system, a multipurpose information management system. Together, the network and BULLET integrate the entire BCSO complex, providing the expedient and reliable flow of information among headquarters, the detention center and the precincts.

The system saves time, reduces costs and provides better information faster, said Joan Heller, BCSO's public information officer. Deputies now spend 50 percent less time filling out reports, giving them more time to patrol the streets. With the records department automated, labor is reduced and the expense of purchasing paper forms has been nearly eliminated. Heller estimated that the new system saves Brevard County more than $1 million each year.

Agents no longer travel to headquarters for case information - they retrieve it from connected terminals at their precincts. The system provides online access to a number of databases, such as criminal history and incident reports, and allows electronic searches.

Mug shots are also available over the network. Because the RAN provides very high-speed data transmission, agents can access digitized video images of suspects who have been booked at the county detention center. Specialized terminals located at each BCSO facility allow the agents to print out high-quality color photographs in minutes. "We've come out of the stone age and into the modern world," says BCSO Chief Deputy Ron Clark. "I couldn't be more pleased."