Brenham Police Department saved 30% by switching from rugged laptops to rugged tablets

Rugged tablet deployment reduces costs.

Rugged tablets have quickly carved out a niche in the mobile computing space, both as a more durable alternative to consumer- grade tablets in many cases, but also as a cost- and space-saving replacement for existing rugged laptops. The City of Brenham, TX recently reduced its mobile computing costs by 30 percent by replacing its existing fleet of laptops, used in city police cruisers with rugged tablets.

Versatile tablets that save costs and are easy to use.

The Brenham Police Department is a relatively small but very busy organization, processing more than 30,000 calls annually. Officers use the mobile computers for dispatch and routing, as well as for accessing data (like license plate databases) and writing reports.

“Our previous laptops had weight issues, cost issues, and just weren’t as versatile as the new tablets,” says Captain Dant Lange, operations commander for the Brenham Police Department. “The tablet form factor is simply easier for the officers to manage.”

To find its new mobile device, the department worked with Ingram Technologies, an Austin-based reseller that specializes in public sector deployments. Brenham ultimately selected the Zebra* XSLATE R12 rugged tablets to be installed in the vehicles with RAM mounts. (*Xplore was recently acquired by Zebra Technologies) The XSLATE R12 tablets met Criminal Justice Information System (CJIS) requirements for secure data collection and transmission and were also rugged enough to withstand use in the unforgiving heat of a Texas summer.

The XSLATE R12 tablets are also smaller than laptops and fully portable, come with a rugged backlit keyboard, and feature an adjustable viewing angle and mount height. Another important characteristic for Brenham is that the tablets were also compatible with the department’s mobile computer-aided dispatch and New World Systems reporting software, along with state and federal data systems.

XSlate R12 tablets provide greater versatility.

Officers use the tablets to run driver’s license and license plate checks. They can complete incident reports in the New World software and can even use the tablets to take photos for evidentiary purposes when necessary. The officers also have access to the full Microsoft Office suite, along with a GPS-based mapping system.

“The officers can see the entire stack of current calls going on and which officers have been deployed to those calls, as well as the location of officers from other agencies,” Lange says. “In our county, we share a central dispatch and reporting system, so we can see where fire units and sheriff’s units are dispatched.”

Officers can use the tablets to message each other via their software applications. The tablets also have an emergency call feature, so if an officer is in trouble or in an accident and can’t access the radio, they can hit an emergency button on the tablet to summon help.

According to Lange, the tablets have proven to be much more convenient for the officers to use in the vehicles because they take up less space than the laptops did. The tablets can easily be snapped in and out of the docking station, and officers are able to black out the screens of the tablets to safeguard sensitive data.

“The docking station for the tablet is more versatile than what we had with our laptop equipment, and the keyboard and mount can be positioned out of the way of the passenger seat,” Lange says. “That creates more space, which is important because we sometimes run two-person units when we’re training new officers. We need room to have an officer in the passenger seat.”

The R12 tablets are also extremely durable. “One of our units was involved in a very serious crash,” Lange says. “The officer was injured and the vehicle was totaled. If you looked at the vehicle, it’s hard to believe the crash was even survivable. The tablet survived, though. We lost a lot of equipment in that car, but the tablet was not damaged.”

Nearly 30% savings for the department.

Officers can’t run most of the public safety applications outside of the vehicle because of restrictions on the use of the data, but they can remove the tablets from the vehicle and use them with docking stations inside police department facilities in order to complete reports and other work. “The officers live in their patrol cars for a 12-hour shift, so it’s nice for them to be able to pull their tablet out, get out of the car, and finish up their reports in the office,” Lange says.

Switching to the tablets also resulted in a nearly 30 percent savings for the department compared to its previous devices. “We have an obligation to the taxpayers and citizens to be economically responsible, and we can get more tablets for the same amount of money we were spending on the other devices,” Lange says. “We also have a younger generation of officers now who are more comfortable with the tablet form factor.”

The department is still phasing in the new R12 devices and should complete the deployment soon. There is also some additional functionality being developed. Right now, for instance, the city’s K9 units can access driver’s license photos through the tablets, but Lange says the department plans to expand that capability to all of the vehicles.

The department is also evaluating a license plate recognition system that integrates with the cameras mounted at the front and rear of the police cars. “You can pick up the license plates of the traffic in front of and behind the car, read those, and check to see if any have been reported stolen or are associated with other incidents,” Lange says. “The system can actually show you a picture of the vehicle you just passed and alert you that it is the one you are looking for. We’re looking at adding that to the K9 units right now.”

With the mobile device refresh, the department was not only able to save space in the patrol vehicles but was also able to save money in its computing budget that can now be directed to other equipment purchases. “The touchscreen functionality of the R12 is much more in line with today’s technology,” Lange says. “Our officers need information as fast as they can get it, and the new tablet, combined with the software we’re running, has made things go faster. That’s helped improve our efficiency and has also made the officers’ jobs easier.”

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