AL gets Voyager tech for instant background checks

Police can use cell, PDA and laptop to get fast info on criminal suspects and hazardous chemical information.
Written by Richard Koman, Contributor

If you've ever been pulled over, you're familiar with that long, agonizing wait as the officer calls in your driver's license and registration information. Perhaps you've imagined that the officer was intentionally making you wait just to make you miserable.

Actually it was a technology problem. As the Alabama Press-Register relates:

Typically, when police pull over a motorist, they have to call a dispatcher and request information such as outstanding arrest warrants or criminal backgrounds, all the while competing for radio operators' time with all other calls that come in, Mitchell said. The wait can continue upward of 20 minutes, and often the officer lets suspects go without ever obtaining the needed information.

Now Alabama is proudly making Voyager technology from Advanced Technology Systems available to all of its 15,000 law enforcement officers - making it the first state to do so. Voyager allows officers to check for background data on a driver via cellphone, PDA or laptop, rather than radio.

Using a nearly $1.3 million Homeland Security grant, Alabama Criminal Justice Information Center Director Maury Mitchell said that state officials could free up critical time for both dispatchers and officers using the Voyager technology with little cost to individual law enforcement agencies. All that the program requires is a little FBI-mandated training and a cell phone, and any device that was made within the last four years will work, Mitchell said.

The tech isn't just good for background checks. Voyager can provide instant information on hazardous materials at a spill site.

Rather than making an inquiry via a radio dispatcher or consulting a thick book of hazardous chemical information, officers will be able to enter the numeric code stamped on the tanker's side.

In seconds they'll receive information detailing the identity of the chemical, how much of an area to evacuate and seal off and who to call in for cleanup, Winitz said, punching the code "1234" into the Voyager program and receiving a report on methylal instantly on his personal digital assistant.

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