OCEAN CITY – The Ocean City Police Department got technologically tougher this week, with the approval to purchase up to eight new military grade “toughbook” laptop computers.
Though the proposal from city IT Manager Nancy Bloxom and OCPD Captain Kevin Kirstein to purchase eight new “toughbooks” and the software for almost $45,000 came under some scrutiny from the council, the OCPD were granted the request after convincing arguments from Kirstein that the computers were a “necessary purchase for the protection of the town.”
The laptop style computers are equipped with rugged military style casing that enables officers to transport them from the office to the police cruiser, thus combining the usages of two computers into one, according to Kirstein.
“These toughbooks give us a real time snapshot at what is going on in the field. These will enable our commanders, our assistant commanders, duty lieutenants and some of our detectives to be fully connected with the system while they are on the road.”
Councilwoman Margaret Pillas questioned the efficiency of these computers, citing problems with similar “toughbooks” used by some of the town’s other essential services.
“I know they are having problems with them in the fire department, and I want to make sure that these are going to work properly before we spend the money on them,” she said.
What Pillas was apparently referring to as far as efficiency goes is the Virtual Private Network, or VPN, that the computers are linked to, which encrypts all the data, protecting it from hackers and public access. Kirstein said the biggest problem officers face is getting disconnected from the network, leading Bloxom, in the computer’s defense, to say it is “virtually impossible to be connected 100 percent of the time.”
Councilman Jim Hall wondered if these were luxury items that police could do without as council members have spent the last month or so cutting all unnecessary costs for the town.
“Are these a toy that is totally necessary, because we are dealing with tax payer money now, rather than grant money?,” Jim Hall said.
Kirstein spoke of grant money that is provided in a JAG fund, which is only available for upgrades to technology in police departments. However, Kirstein said that all those funds had been earmarked for other things, thus necessitating the need for council’s help.
“Our patrol captains oversee all marked fleets and are responsible for 75 officers in the off season and over 200 in season. He has to know the whereabouts of all these officers, and right now, he doesn’t have that capability”, said Kirstein.
Councilman Doug Cymek defended the laptops, saying, “I don’t think it’s the problem of the toughbook as far as efficiency goes. It’s a proven product and very dependable, and I think these are a good thing for our officers to have.”