Handheld computing devices are catching on in thousands of classrooms across the country, as more educational applications have been developed to support learning. Now, an enterprising Colorado high school has harnessed the power of these devices to ensure student safety.

Craig Mansanares, a school resource officer at Skyline High School in Longmont, Colo., is one of six area officers who regularly use a personal digital assistant (PDA), in concert with a digital camera, to enforce school rules, catch miscreants, and file reports.

“Initially our commander bought the PDAs to help us … maintain a schedule so the police department knows what we are doing,” he said. Resource officers also must keep school administrators apprised of their schedules.

Instead of keeping a paper calendar, Mansanares and his fellow officers began keeping their personal calendars on the PDAs, enabling them to download their schedules upon request. They also began to substitute the PDAs for the notebook tablets they’d always used to record information about cases.

The police department then bought three digital camera modules to use with the PDAs, one for each high school.

“We started maintaining photo records of students we come into contact with, using [the photos] for evidentiary purposes,” Mansanares said. “And we started to see how practical [the devices] were for referencing material.”

Mansanares uses an eyeModule2 camera with his $250 Handspring Visor Pro. The camera cost about $150 and came with its own software.

Once the PDAs were equipped with Documents to Go software from DataViz Inc., allowing for word processing and spreadsheet creation, the officers were able to use their handhelds to download criminal statutes, policy codes, and other useful information. “Now we have access to those materials at all time, rather than having to dig around in the reference books,” Mansanares said.

Mansanares also uses his PDA to download intelligence information to prevent crimes from occurring.

“For instance, if an officer went to a dangerous call … the night before, and someone had made a threat against someone else, we put together an intelligence report telling other officers that this is a dangerous situation,” he explained. He can also use his handheld to download pictures of people who are wanted for a crime.

On at least one occasion, using the handheld and the digital camera resulted in the arrest of a wanted criminal.

On a routine patrol of the area near the school, Mansanares pulled over someone who had an outstanding arrest warrant. The suspect gave him a false name, but Mansanares recognized him and took a photo of him without his knowledge, using the small, discreet, attachable camera.

“When he realized I didn’t believe him [about his identity], he took off,” Mansanares said. But rather than engage in a dangerous car chase to apprehend the suspect, Mansanares simply used the picture he took to show in court that the suspect had fled from the police.

Mansanares is so impressed with the capabilities of PDAs when it comes to supporting school safety that he has written a grant to get the devices into the hands of area principals, two campus supervisors, and three assistant principals.

Once administrators get their own handhelds, Mansanares believes they will be able to keep better tabs on the comings and goings of staff, students, and visitors. For example, school administrators can take a picture of a student who has been suspended and share the photo with other staff members, so they can make sure the student does not enter school property.

Related links:
Skyline High School

Handspring Visor