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rataj memories


November 4, 2013
By Tom Rataj

1132 words – MR

Patrolling down memory lane
22 years on the tech beat

by Tom Rataj

<COMPUTERS! They are everywhere. What did we ever do without them? It seems these days you can’t get away from them. It’s even become fashionable to have a home computer, so you can allegedly bring work home and spend more time with the kids. This despite the fact that they are probably doing their homework on the thing already.>

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So began my journalistic endeavours in the November 1991 issue of the almost two year old . As I write this article 22 years later, I’m fascinated by how much technology has changed, how much of our current tech wasn’t even imagined back in ’91 and how little other things have changed.

In that first article, I wrote, among other things, about “ever shrinking (police) budgets,” which seem to have morphed into a standard operating procedure (SOP), and the need to network computers and eliminate the “independent input of the same information” into several different systems to complete routine paperwork.

Those early articles were typed into my first computer; a $2,400 ALR featuring an Intel 386-SX16 (single core, 16 MHz processor), 1MB RAM, a massive (at the time) 40MB hard-drive, 1.44MB 3½” floppy disk, 14″ 0.28 dot-pitch analogue colour Mitsubishi monitor and keyboard (but no mouse). It ran Microsoft Disk Operating System (MS-DOS) 3.0. Blue Line’s production computer was slightly more powerful and still had a 5¼” floppy.

With no Internet in the public domain yet, I had to FAX my articles to the office and Morley used optical character recognition (OCR) software to make it editable again. Today it’s just a quick e-mail.

In those early years, my article appeared only every few months and even strayed beyond technology. I covered smoking in the workplace (yes, it was still allowed back in the early 90’s) and the very disturbing and damning findings of the Independent Commission on The LAPD after the infamous Rodney King incident.

It was one of the first cases of a civilian video showing excessive use of force by police and created a huge uproar in the US and eventually Canada when some of the officers were acquitted.

From the tech perspective, the four part series also included quotes of MDT chatter between officers in the immediate aftermath of the beating, including this exchange: “Oops,” “Oops what?” “I haven’t beaten anyone this bad in a long time.” “Oh, not again… why for you do that… I thought you agreed to chill out for a while, what did he do?” “I think he was dusted… many broken bones later after the pursuit”.

This was the first time when technology used in the police workplace came back to haunt more than a few officers.

I covered such tech revolutions as Laser speed measuring devices, computer software piracy and computer viruses, including the first major and most famous, the Michelangelo virus in March 1992. I revisited viruses and computer security a few more times over the years as things got more dangerous.

There was also the advent of Mobile Data Terminals (MDT’s) in police cars and the eventual migration to rugged laptop computers, then small personal sized devices like the BlackBerry smartphone that can and does provide CPIC and RMS access in your hand.

In-car cameras began finally making their way into police cars back in the 90’s. I recall using an early VHS cassette based system that was a complicated and an operational flop. Today’s systems typically use solid state optical sensors, memory cards and can even wirelessly upload recordings via WiFi back at the station. The all digital video is stored on computer servers and can be easy accessed from any networked computer.

I wrote about the progression of Microsoft Windows from 3.1 up to 8.1 and Microsoft Office from 2.1 through 2010. Some alternatives such as the Linux O/S and WordPerfect for Windows also attracted some ink, along with the news that “CPIC goes Windows” in the October 1994 edition.

After connecting to the Internet in 1995, I introduced the World Wide Web to readers, noting the advantages and dangers. Even got into the action in the mid-90’s at the not so easy to remember address of: “102547,3140@Compuserve.com”.

The Criminal Code of Canada arrived in digital format in the mid-90s on CD-ROM, making it much easier to search.

Technology also spread to the automotive world. I wrote about early adoption of ABS brakes (and some of the problems associated with it), stability control, drive by wire, night vision, lane departure, blind spot and sleepy driver sensors and the tech and advantage of winter tires.

I had an early opportunity to test the first “affordable” night-vision equipment (Gen3) in 1996. I remember driving north of Toronto to Musselman’s Lake with Morley on a cold winter night and testing out the $5,000 loaner equipment. While I took photos (colour print film), Morley got to play the role of the burglar skulking in the dark.

My August/September 1997 column highlighted the newly emerging digital photography market. Kodak Canada was good enough to loan me a Kodak DC120, a “moderately priced” compact digital camera running at $1,399. It featured a 1.2 megapixel sensor, 2MB of internal memory and could use an optional Compact Flash memory card. The 3X optical zoom lens offered a bit of reach, but the camera ate through four AA batteries after only a couple dozen shots so it wasn’t very practical.

I also wrote about the Year 2000 (Y2K or Millennium Bug) chaos that turned out to mostly be a non-event and the now cheap and commonplace cellular phone – beginning with the giant analogue devices (no texting or Internet) through the first digital (PCS) phones up to the latest smartphones.

The “paperless office” has yet to arrive but plenty of people have predicted it. I wrote about early paperless disclosure systems (such as AdLib), which enabled providing all disclosure on a CD-ROM. Unfortunately paper often still rules.

Biometrics were covered several times, from electronic reading of fingerprints for facility access, identifying criminals using networked AFIS systems and facial recognition for security and other authentication uses.

Although off my usual tech beat, the most memorable assignment was my summer 2013 trip to Kabul, Afghanistan, where I researched the police training operations of EUPOL Afghanistan.

In the future, I fully expect to see a lot more video, including on-body cameras for all uniform and some non-uniform officers. More voice controlled systems will enter the personal and business space and almost every device will have some level of data connection to the Internet.

Bravo to Morley, Mary and the rest of the team at Blue Line for continuing to publish this great magazine.


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