A group of 40 law-enforcement agencies across 26 counties in the Texas Panhandle region are part of information-sharing initiative designed to improve the ability of law-enforcement officers in the region to gather and share data.

Known as the Panhandle Regional Information and Data Exchange (PRIDE), the initiative was funded by almost $1 million in federal stimulus money and a $300,000 Homeland Security grant. CDW Government provided the technical support, which included equipping officer vehicles with ruggedized computer notebooks, and the city of Amarillo built a shared database of Class C warrant information and deployed a new regional data hub to enable access to state and federal law-enforcement databases.

Such upgrades are much needed in the region, according to James Brown, chief information officer for the city of Amarillo.

“We’re advancing our technological capabilities up here,” Brown said. “You get the [perception] sometimes that ‘rural’ converts to Mayberry RFD, and that’s not really the case. The situations and conditions under which our law enforcement has to operate in the Panhandle is the same as anywhere else; there’s just fewer people.”

One key component to the plan was the new regional data hub, because officers previously had to access data — usually via a voice-radio link to a dispatcher — from a hub located in San Antonio that utilized older, slower technology and is facing capacity issues, Brown said. With the new data hub and in-vehicle notebooks leveraging commercial networks, officers can access data more quickly, without the need to use valuable radio voice channels.

Not only does the PRIDE initiative improve efficiencies, it also makes it safer for officers to do their jobs, Brown said.

“Officer safety was one of the biggest driving factors in all of this,” he said. “There’s a concern about having officers stopping somebody on a rural roadway and walking up to somebody unaccompanied, not really knowing who might be behind the wheel of that vehicle.”

While many areas in the country have cited difficulties in getting local jurisdictions to partner on interoperability initiatives, Brown said that was not an issue with this project.

“In the Texas Panhandle, people have a tendency to work pretty well together, particularly when they see that they’re working toward a common goal that will benefit not only themselves but sister agencies in other parts of the Panhandle,” he said.” That was probably the easiest part of the project, to tell you the truth.”