PICTURE JIMMY CAGNEY yelling: "You'll have to download me, copper." This summer, Washington is giving up to $150 million to 100 police departments so they can buy state-of-the-art computers. The aim is to improve efficiency and give cops fresh, timely info. Detectives at a crime scene can call up mug shots on a flat-panel display. Then, using a portable printer, they can produce a victim's statement for signature. In San Diego, squad car computers let the officers tap into police and FBI data in minutes. Says Buffalo Police Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske: "These are great tools."
Not everyone is gung-ho. Tinkering with computer operations in the field could distract officers, says Hubert Williams, ex-head of the Newark (N.J.) force and president of the Police Foundation, a nonprofit research group. Upshot: They'll be less vigilant and more vulnerable.
Since laptop cops are a Clintonite notion, the GOP may put the money into block grants, leaving local forces to spend it as they wish. Democrats say this was tried in the '70s, when the no-strings bucks went into fancy weapons that sat unused.