by Thomas Wailgum

A Failure to Communicate at the NYPD

Mar 01, 20062 mins
MobileSmall and Medium Business

Events such as 9/11 show that communications are key to successful disaster recovery.

It’s been said before that a police officers’ radio is his lifeline, partner and just as important as his gun. Over the years, officers have come rely on it—perhaps too much. “We talk too much on the radio because we don’t have the data,” says Lt. Larry Kissane, an NYPD cop who works in the office of technology and systems development.




Horrific events such as 9/11, the blackout in August 2003 and Hurricane Katrina illustrate just how important radio communications are—and how untenable emergency situations can become without proper backup plans and equipment.

At the NYPD, police administrators realized this consequence, and as part of its technology overhaul have set out to ensure that if the radios do go down, there are multiple other ways to communicate critical information.

In 2004, they started rolling out rugged laptops in police cruisers that can wirelessly access criminal records, stolen vehicle reports and other information. There are 2,400 laptops now, which use a simplified Windows-based system that can access databases for data on stolen cars, domestic violence, New York driving records and more. And all precincts are slated to get new computers—the old typewriters will soon be a thing of the past. It’s simplified because officers have a dozen other instruments in the cruisers to distract them. And laptops provide a distinct advantage over radios. “Laptops can do things quietly,” says Kissane. “We don’t want the bad guys to hear what we’re doing,” which they could over the radio airwaves.

Other IT-led projects that are rolling out include e-mail for all 50,000 NYPD employees, videoconferencing between One Police Plaza and the precincts, and BlackBerrys for NYPD officials and nonpolice personnel. All of these are in addition to cell, satellite and digital and analog phones that the NYPD uses now.

The goal, of course, is to avoid another failure in communication. “We didn’t have all of this during 9/11,” says Jim Onalfo, the deputy commissioner and CIO at the NYPD. “Just the radios.”