Computing in Connecticut
Connecticut public safety agencies pool their efforts to create a regional mobile data system that accomplishes goals set for the individual patrol unit, reporting requirements and links to state and national databases.
The Hartford, CT-based Capital Region Public Safety Council selected a challenging task for one of its inaugural projects in Connecticut, a state with a relatively small geographical area comprising 169 towns in just 5,000 square miles. The council initiated a program that will bring 39 traditional, independent-thinking, Yankee communities together to implement a truly regional mobile data system for the police departments in the Hartford area and potentially the entire state.
The council, because it is a member-run organization with no staff, entered into an arrangement whereby the Capital Region Council of Governments (CRCOG) actually provides operation management of the project.
>From the project’s inception, members identified two overriding goals. First, the system had to be a definite step forward in the process of fully automating a mobile public safety unit. “Fully automated” was defined as providing the same information processing tools regardless of whether an officer was in the mobile unit or the police station. Second, and equally important, the system had to address several critical regional needs. (See Table 1, above.) These needs included capabilities to report to and integrate with an ever-expanding group of national, state, regional and local public safety information systems. This article first examines the project as a classic mobile data system and then reexamines it in light of the broader implications of a regional information system.
Mobile data system Computers are not new to the police departments in and around Hartford. Public safety organizations have been using them successfully for many years. However, most systems in use were designed primarily to manage the information needs of a single organization. Access was limited to local, National Crime Information Center (NCIC) and National Law Enforcement Teletype System (NLETS) data. Furthermore, most systems had few mobile capabilities. From a regional perspective, each town was essentially an island, unable to share information electronically with neighboring communities.
Without mobile data systems, officers often complete more than one paper report for an incident, often duplicating many data entries among the multiple reports. In manycases, reporting requirements reduce the amount of time an officer can actually spend on patrol, which makes the process not only time-consuming but inefficient. Manual form completion also tends to be error-prone and difficult to manage.
Additionally, voice calls to department dispatchers were taking a significant time to process and were becoming an increasing part of the daily work. The new system had to not only shorten the access time, but it also had to provide more accurate data in an environment where the number of users and the rate of data access were rapidly growing. The planned system, using MODAC’s Bluelink software, is designed to collect the data in a way that maximizes the computer’s capability to assist the officer in the collection of information. Screens are controlled by the officer, table data is presented wherever possible, and duplicate data entry is eliminated. Most importantly, data entry is being redesigned to optimize the field officer’s time, rather than simply making an electronic copy of an existing form for the mobile unit. Dispatchers already have noticed a reduction in traffic now that vehicle and person inquiries are being done electronically, and member organizations anticipate further time savings when the CAD system is activated.
Regional information system The benefits to the individual cities and towns are enormous. CRCOG expects the total cost per town to be significantly lower than if each community purchased its own system. The council also expects significant reductions in total training costs because of efficiencies of scale. By selecting a single system, each town avoids the lengthy process of selecting, testing and installing its own system. Prosecutors will see data presented in a uniform way and, as a result, will be encouraged to share more data regionally. The ultimate result is a less expensive network that provides more effective criminal justice information. (See Figure 1 on page 31.)
Before this implementation, a law enforcement officer in Hartford had no way of knowing that the same car he was about to stop was stopped moments earlier in Glastonbury or had been seen leaving the scene of a crime in East Hartford days earlier. Conversely, another vehicle, driven by a Farmington resident, observed passing through a Windsor neighborhood in the wee hours of the morning, might not be a cause for concern. CRCOG wanted the mobile system to give officers access to a regional database that would identify people involved in region-wide incidents. Ideally, better information might eventually help officers to prevent crimes from occurring. As one of the most important components of the design, this project will have a regional database designed to encourage sharing of certain data among members. As data are entered in the field, approved, and ultimately transferred to the member’s record system, a copy of key information items will be added to the regional database.
Coordinating 39 member organizations during the specification, selection and implementation of the project was expected to be one of the most challenging tasks faced by the council. Early in the project, the members made a decision that went a long way toward creating and maintaining strong project support from every member. The group agreed that decisions would be made by representatives of the members, not by a small number of designated staff. While this often increased the work and delayed the decisions, it became one of the strongest aspects of the project. Because the members stayed involved with the process and made the decision themselves, support for the project started strong and remained strong.
Funding a regional project presented both great benefits and challenges. Because the population of the member communities represents a significant part of Connecticut, the state government agreed to provide funding by paying for network access, software and part of the hardware costs. However, the process of gaining this support lengthened the approval process at times. In the fall of 1994, Connecticut Gov. John Rowland included the provision for laptop computers in all police cruisers as part of his 10-point crime prevention program. Subsequently, in December 1995, the State Bonding Commission approved the initial $900,000 of their share of the program. In parallel, many individual organizations applied for, and received, “Cops More” program grants to acquire laptop computers. The process of building support for this funding added almost an entire year to the project.
Each member organization faces an ever-growing obligation to share data as a consequence of the National Incident-based Reporting System (NIBRS), and a series of legislated requirements for specific topics such as gang-related activities, family violence and drugs. Additionally, members are being mandated to provide data to state and national agencies in standard formats. This project tackled the reporting and data collecting tasks from the outset. The members decided to include a number of standard reporting forms in the project scope. These data collection needs were addressed by the software in the mobile unit, in conjunction with a significant amount of back-end reporting. (See Figure 2, page 32; Figure 3, page 33; and Figure 4, page 34.)
Regional design Each of the 600-plus vehicles has vehicle-mounted IBM Thinkpad computers with Sierra Wireless modems and MODAC’s Bluelink Windows 95 software. Telepartner International’s Teleserver message switch, located in the Hartford Police Department’s data center, runs under Microsoft NT on fully redundant hardware. All communications are Internet protocol (IP)-capable, including access to COLLECT and the mobile units. COLLECT is Connecticut’s centralized public safety system, which accesses state, NCIC and NLETS information. A planned frame-relay network will connect member organizations to the system by year-end, and will also use the IP protocol. The system uses Windows NT security and is designed to recover all communications sessions in the event of any system failure without any effect on the end users.
Project status The first of three phases of this ambitious project has been deployed to more than 600 police cruisers in the 39 member communities. As of mid-1998, the system supported inquiries to Connecticut’s COLLECT, NLETS and NCIC databases over the Southern New England Telephone (SNET) CDPD network. Response time for inquiries averages close to five seconds, and each day the system handles about 5,000 inquiries that generate almost 10,000 COLLECT, NCIC, and NLETS responses. The project is closely following the planned schedule for the remaining phases. Planning for the database needed in later phases has been completed, and the Telepartner team has started development work on interfaces to the many CAD and RMS systems used by member organizations. Because all the hardware is now in place, subsequent updates will address software and training. Small updates and enhancements will be delivered wirelessly, while larger ones will be done via compact disc.
Other state agencies, interested in eliminating paper reporting in favor of electronic filing and exchange of information, have made inquiries to the council. Several towns beyond the original membership have expressed interest in joining the project. As the result of an offer made to all towns in Connecticut, several are in the process of installing the system to test in their municipalities.
Initially, the organization was concerned that it might be difficult to appease group members for the duration of such a large project. This was especially a concern because member towns had a strong desire to get the systems as quickly as possible. They were convinced they could save money and time and possibly lives. Further, the project went at a slower pace because of the sheer size of the group.
Surprisingly, Richard Porth, Executive Director of CRCOG, observed that “Holding the group together really never became an issue.” He attributed that to the fact that “Members were always in control of the project, and they were convinced that a regional system would cost less and deliver many more benefits over time than any system an individual town could implement.”
Initially, the plan called for end-user support to be provided by each of the member organization’s staff, with some degree of high-level support being provided by the larger, more experienced information services staff of a few members. During the pilot period, it became apparent that the support requirements for a project of this size would require constant support. Thus the team decided to contract with Telepartner for support services. Tele-partner’s support staff, on a trial basis, is now handling all reported problems and coordinating service, network and hardware vendors in problem resolution. Information concerning this project can be obtained by contacting Richard Porth, Executive Director, Capital Region Council of Governments at 860-522-2217; Telepartner International at 800-935-3270; or MODAC at 860-953-4973.
SPRINGFIELD, MA – The police department members of the Western Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council (WMLEC) have attributed increased warrant arrests and vehicle violation citations to mobile data terminal software that accesses a central system.
Installations began in March 1998 under the $2 million software contract, awarded to Marlborough, MA-based Cerulean Technology. Its Packetcluster Patrol software operates over Bell Atlantic Mobile’s Airbridge wireless data network, which connects the patrol car laptops to the WMLEC landline network. The software is an open-architecture, standards-based product that can be used over both conventional VHF/UHF radio networks and CDPD networks.
WMLEC is a consortium of 27 police departments in Hampden and Hampshire Counties. Its member agencies cover about 608 square miles from the Vermont to the Connecticut borders with about 134 police vehicles. The departments range in size from a few officers to several hundred. With each police department within the WMLEC area at different stages of automation, council leaders said that they wanted to integrate a variety of CAD and RMS technologies.
Each member department now has its own system and can share information among the other agencies. Member agencies and dispatchers can access crime-fighting information from the field and communicate with each other through secure, real-time messages to assist in pursuits and investigations and to improve interagency coordination.
A public presentation and demonstration of the completed system was held in Springfield, MA, in October.
Longmeadow, MA, Police Chief and WMLEC Chairman Richard A. Marchese said “Armed with timely, accurate information, police officers can solve crimes faster and use their time more efficiently. Ensuring officer safety is a top priority with all police departments.”
Marchese said the new software puts necessary information at an officer’s fingertips within the security of the mobile unit, so officers are less likely to “walk into potentially dangerous situations.”
The Springfield Police department reported that use of the new system has created a “dramatic increase” in the number of traffic citations issued, service of arrest warrants, and fines for uninsured and unregistered vehicles. “With Packetcluster Patrol, our officers can run at least twice as many queries as they could using our voice dispatch system,” said Springfield communications manager Carl Prairie.
Before the new system was installed, WMLEC member agency patrol officers had to wait as long as 20 minutes while dispatchers gathered background information from a headquarters-based terminal connected to the state criminal justice information system. The on-air downtime reduced the number of investigations and arrests officers could make because it limited them to fewer queries.
In addition to providing officers with real-time information, the mobile computer software allows them to file reports from their vehicles without having to return to the police station.