Gadgets giving officer an edge Laptop, digital camera in high-tech arsenal of Arundel policeman

November 29, 1996|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

Officer Keith J. Light has everything he needs to fight crime in Pasadena's Sun Valley: an Acer laptop computer with modem and Internet access, a Casio digital camera and night-vision goggles with infrared sensor.

Light, like other Anne Arundel officers, uses a laptop computer to write incident reports and charging documents, but he hasn't stopped there. The six-year veteran has spent more than $2,300 of his own money to create an arsenal of techno-toys.

The chiming, humming, beeping gadgetry packed into Light's patrol car creates a high-tech melody. His computer occasionally chimes like the "Star Trek" Enterprise hailing frequency, his pager beeps, his cellular phone rings and two police radios and a police scanner buzz gently under the hum of country music on the radio.

Light, 31, writes his reports from the front seat of his cruiser, returning to the Northern District station only when he has a suspect to book. He says paperwork that would take three hours to write can be done on computer in 45 minutes.

He never has to show anyone the penmanship that a supervisor once criticized as looking like a physician's.

But the centerpiece of his technological tools is the $500 digital camera that Light bought seven months ago. It allows him to collect instant pictures of suspects, stolen merchandise, destroyed property and assault victims that can be downloaded into his computer and incorporated into his reports.

Helps in court

Grieving family members don't have to give up pictures of loved ones, and the camera helps him when he testifies in court.

"The first thing the state's attorney asks you is, 'Do you see the defendant [in the courtroom]?' " Light said.

"After a year of court postponements on that one case, your mind tends to wander," he said. "But all I have to do is look at the report."

He has proposed that the department purchase the cameras, which hold nearly 100 pictures in their memories, to take suspects' mug shots and make the pictures available on computer to all districts.

The department is looking for grants to make a similar system available.

Sgt. Jeffrey Price, who became Light's supervisor two months ago, said he was amazed to see Light's reports.

"Just the presentation itself is phenomenal, and it makes you want to read the report," Price said. "I'm constantly bragging to other shifts about them. It's all there. Here's the suspect, here's the evidence. It's all in the report."

Price added that keeping two or three years of handwritten reports takes lots of space, and often reports get lost or damaged.

But Light and other officers on his shift who use laptop computers store their reports on disc and print them out when needed.

Living on technology's edge is a big change for the country boy who grew up in the mountains of southwestern Virginia.

Growing up in Locust Grove, a small town in Floyd County -- "it-ain't-near-nothin' " -- Virginia, Light was a skilled hunter and fisherman. Computers were something else.

"They tease me back at home because I didn't have indoor plumbing until I was 18," the 6-foot, 220-pound Light said in a choppy, thick Southern accent. "Now here I am in the city working on laptop computers."

'Star Trek' fan

His love of "Star Trek" and his creation of a computerized "Star Trek" game six years ago first got him on a computer keyboard.

Since then, almost everything that beeps, flashes or uses a microchip has been on Light's got-to-get list, and half the officers on his shift have gotten laptops.

Night-vision goggles are one of the least flashy and least-used items in Light's arsenal, but one he had to have.

If he has to chase a suspect through the woods one night, the $300 goggles would be better than a flashlight and they might pay for themselves, he reasoned.

"If [the suspect's] got a gun and shoots at the flashlight, he's probably going to hit the idiot holding it," Light said.

"And besides," he added with a grin, "it's a toy."

Pub Date: 11/29/96

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