Thunder Bay police officers will soon have a new tool in their crime-fighting arsenal.

The force plans to replace the mobile data terminals in its cruisers with tablet computers — or tablets.

Police Chief JP Levesque said the tablets will be used for communication, and reporting.

He noted the force has a policy that forbids officers from using these devices while on the road, he noted.

"A two-person car helps a lot, so it's the passenger who's actually doing any input and communications,” he said.

 JP Levesque

Police Chief JP Levesque says the tablets will be used for communication, and reporting. (Adam Burns/CBC)

“But historically, there's always been a radio in a police car. So that's a distraction, so there's always been something.”

In a one-person car, the driver must pull over to use the tablet, Levesque added.

The force will implement the tablets — a model known as “Tough Pad” that is manufactured by Panasonic — over the next few months.

Levesque said their implementation will coincide with the police force's new "zone policing" strategy, which divides the city into five zones and aims to give police greater "geographic ownership" of their assigned zones.

"The tablets are going to be used in-car. So our officers can do reporting, they can communicate with each other [and] they can communicate with members in the Zone Watch program,” he said. “So far we have 80 people in the [Zone Watch] program. They can communicate directly with the officers who will be working [in] that area."

About 30 tablets were purchased for the force, at a cost of about $90,000.

They are an improvement over the car’s mobile data terminals, which were rugged laptops, explained police spokesperson Chris Adams.