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UHP ARMS 14 CRUISERS WITH COMPUTERS

Fourteen Utah Highway Patrol cruisers in Weber County have laptop computers mounted next to the driver's seat where the shotgun used to go.

The new sidearm helps troopers wage war - on paperwork and wasted time.Under a trial program developers hope to eventually implement across the state, the UHP uses the computers to automate the functions troopers perform during a shift.

The computers track the amount of time troopers are committed on calls and even update vehicle-fueling and maintenance records. But the big effect on officers is expected to be the time saved by eliminating redundant paperwork.

"A lot of our paperwork is duplication," Weber County supervisor Lt. John Danks said. Paperwork on a traffic stop has to be repeated if the driver is drunk, repeated again on a separate form if dispatchers find the driver is wanted on another warrant, again if a crash is involved, and so on.

Public Safety computer programmer Gerald Adams, who wrote the software for the computers, said as much as 80 percent of the information officers gather has to be written multiple times. The computers automate those duplications, as well as keep track of violation codes, jurisdiction names and court addresses.

When the trooper finishes putting the information into the laptop, a printer mounted between the cruiser's two front seats spits out all of the necessary copies for the UHP, court clerk, and, of course, the violator. Sign here and have a nice day.

Other states using or testing computerized cars include California, Ohio, North Carolina, Florida and Washington.

UHP Sgt. James Matthies said the state initially shopped for software outside the department and found firms wanting $150,000 in development costs. That is when he and Adams decided to tackle the project in-house, spending about $35,000 to $40,000. The computers and related hardware cost another $5,500 per car.

Adams said the state offers its software free to other jurisdictions but will charge for modifications. Adams said customizing the software for other users will likely help the state recoup its investment in developing the software.

Many other law enforcement tasks can be automated down the road, such as taking and verifying fingerprints, exchanging data with courts and dispatchers electronically, and using global positioning system enhancements to track locations. The technology already exists, but at prohibitive costs, Matthies said.

The laptop-equipped cruisers have been on the road since Saturday. Danks said the officers will probably lose efficiency at first while they learn to use the new tool, but he expects two Weber County crews outfitted with laptops to soon outperform a third crew that operates as a control group.