Officers pick up the beat
When it comes to communications and records management, police in Winter Park, Fla., benefit from having some of the most up-to-date computerized technology available.
“What officers like the most is the least amount of writing,” said Winter Park Police Department Deputy Chief Bill McEachnie. “It makes them and their supervisors happy, and it frees them to be available for calls rather than being occupied at a desk writing reports. They like the instant access to databases for license plates and wanted persons from their computer. It not only allows running more tags, it frees dispatchers from listening to as much radio traffic.”
Winter Park’s experience follows the conventional wisdom that police departments offer better service when their officers spend more time on the street. The quicker they can reach the field upon beginning their shifts and the longer they can stay on the street, the better.
Radio communications, computerized dispatching, automatic vehicle location and records management all play important roles in giving police officers the necessary vehicular resources.
With an integrated system, they have access to information from local, state and federal databases. They can communicate with dispatchers and officers in other cars. They can complete and submit reports from the street.
“We are one of the relatively few police departments whose officers prepare police reports on the computer and transmit them over the air to the supervisor. In turn, the supervisor approves the reports and sends them directly into the records. The sergeant doesn’t have to go through two reams to approve a report — it’s done with a click on the computer,” McEachnie said.
McEachnie described the Winter Park Police Department as one of the finest equipped departments for its size in the country. Highlights include an indoor shooting range with computer-controlled targets, a mobile command post, an armored personnel carrier, boats for patrolling the city’s lakes and take-home cars for each of the 81 sworn officers.
By March 2001, every officer who didn’t already have an assigned computer was scheduled to have one.
Winter Park doesn’t necessarily deploy all of the computer-based technology described in the following information that describes some of the available technology.
Police departments that use some of the latest dispatching software find that officer safety improves with the display of current statuses for each vehicle and active incident. Computer-aided dispatching can be configured to offer immediate incident and unit status updates and database inquiries on one screen.
Communications center efficiency improves with the use of mobile data computers and terminals, access to E-911 call data and state and federal computers, and the use of alarm panels.
Planning can improve responses, yet an effective response depends on access to the plans. Computerization gives fast access to location information for hazardous materials, mutual aid, precautions and key-holders.
Where jurisdictions allow, law enforcement, fire, and emergency medical service vehicles can be dispatched from one screen. With records immediately available, redundant data entry can be eliminated.
Although voice contact with dispatchers often makes an important difference, other routine communications go faster without dispatcher involvement. Officers’ use of integrated mobile data terminals or laptop computers allow making inquiries from their vehicles, receiving copies of dispatch and location information, and updating their status without radio contact with dispatchers.
Many communications centers set up their own codes for dispatch information to minimize dispatcher keystrokes. Online communications within the system send messages from dispatcher to dispatcher, vehicle to vehicle, and dispatcher to vehicle for voice-free contact that prevents unauthorized scanners from intercepting agency communications.
Creating a comprehensive location master database makes incident histories, location descriptions, precautions, floor plans, key-holders, alarms, premise names and cross streets available to CAD or records management programs.
Individual jurisdictions can create screen maps to show active incidents in the dispatch center.
Automatic location verification not only applies to vehicles, it can be programmed to show locations by alarm numbers, premise names, addresses, intersections and phone numbers. It can use an audio features to search for misspelled street names.
A dispatcher’s judgment is indispensable, but computerization can offer a dispatcher multiple beat and response plans, and can recommend units for dispatch based on the type of call, location, and unit availability.
Integrated systems are available to handle standard dispatch, call-taker dispatch, single-agency dispatch, multiple-agency dispatch and multiple-department dispatch operations.
Making warrant information available through the system helps officers to track local offenders. Information retrieved from the records management system can be distributed to the field.
When hazardous materials are involved in a response, special instructions can be delivered from the Department of Transportation emergency response guide for hazardous materials.
Sophisticated records management enables law enforcement agencies to record the greatest amount of incident information with a minimum of effort from law enforcement officers. Recording multiple charges for each incident and tracking detailed information in all incident-based reporting categories allows an agency to report required crime statistics to state and federal agencies automatically.
Records management that tracks warrant, “be-on-the-lookout” and hazard information increases officer safety. Records management tracks the evidence chain of custody by recording property information, including who checked the item in or out of the property room and when it was released or returned.
Records management can summarize and analyze criminal activity within a jurisdiction and detail how an agency responds to criminal activity by providing investigative analysis reports.
Some systems allow user-defined entry screens to change field names to match an agency’s terminology. Comments can be added to fields to explain requirements for those fields, helping to set up case reports to print in a specified way.
Automatic data entry tables can be used to contain the most current crime reporting information required by the FBI and various state regulations. The automation standardizes the tables across multiple departments in an agency. Using alphanumeric codes makes them easy to remember.
Incident-based reporting can be automated with entry screens programmed to ensure that IBR information is entered correctly. Information can be entered about everything that may be involved in an offense, including domestic violence, drugs, documents, assaults on police officers and special homicide circumstances. Files can be separated among juvenile and adult offenders to ensure that confidential arrest records of juveniles are automatically separated from those of adults.
Records management can provide automatic warnings about potentially dangerous people and can quickly access hazard, modus operandi or crime specialty information. It facilitates criminal case management to follow a case assignment audit trail that specifies everyone involved with each case, indicates the case disposition and alerts supervisors to the need for follow-up reports.
Records management can maintain secured files of drug informants, rumors, hearsay and confidential information. With automatic cross-referencing, it can connect cases involving the same suspects, vehicles, locations, weapons or similar modus operandi using reference numbers. It can track information concerning the charge, warrant type, bond type, bond amount, service attempts, people involved, aliases, associates and vehicles.
Towed vehicles, discretionary funds and property registration numbers can be tracked through records management.
When integrated with the computer-aided dispatching, records management can copy location information and unit dispatch times automatically.
Additional integration can allow court employees to update warrant and citation information accessible by dispatchers and officers when the court employees update their cases.
To let officers use standard IBR entries, information from the records can be downloaded onto a laptop or pen-enabled computer.
They can complete incident reports in the field, and at the end of their shifts, automatically transfer incident reports to the records, as it is done in Winter Park.
Some computerized systems provide street intersection maps for accident diagrams, and allow officers to use computer pens to draw maps that aren’t already in the system.
In Winter Park, these accident reports have to be entered on a stand-alone computer in the office because Florida jurisdictions have to use a state form that isn’t yet on the city’s system.
Combined with bar code scanning, records management tracks evidence and property inventory. McEachnie said that Winter Park probably would acquire bar code readers before long.
He said that the police department’s property and evidence section uses computers to track evidence and to give reminders of purge dates when evidence no longer is required.
But he said he has seen bar code readers used in other jurisdictions, and that they make it easier for the clerks to track and store property and evidence.
Including a mobile data browser can improve mobile data functionality through real-time distribution of supplemental information.
A browser’s graphical user interface can provide multiple navigation paths to forms and application functions.
An officer can have access to application functions and information through interfaces tailored to a department’s preferences and an agency’s system configuration.
Browsers can be compatible with TCP/IP, CDPD, Electrocom, Dataradio, M/A-Com, Motorola and other communications protocols. Storage can be made available for thousands of messages sorted by time or by subject. Old messages can be recalled, edited and re-sent.
Partially completed forms retain data until the user clears or transmits the form, or exits the application.
A browser’s audible alerts provide officers with indications of incoming messages. A distinct sound can be applied to each message priority and type. Audible messages can be customized.
A mobile data browser makes it easier to access federal, state and local databases. Pre-formatted NCIC and NLETS-compatible screens provide access to public safety databases.
A browser expands on the capabilities of most CAD systems. It provides optimized data entry and review screens for all queries and responses supported by CAD.
In Winter Park, McEachnie said that the advantages of computerization include speed and access to information.
“The disadvantages become apparent when it doesn’t work. Then it frustrates everyone. There are so many subsystems and components to the system that when one goes down, it affects all of the other systems. But it’s great when it works, and it works almost all of the time,” he said.
Computerized systems are so complicated that McEachnie said that the days of a department having its own system and maintaining it with sworn officers are over.
The city’s IT division is responsible for all of city’s computer systems, and the division has assigned someone on a full-time basis to the police department for maintenance and troubleshooting.
“Maintaining the system and troubleshooting it requires expertise in many disciplines. Integrating communications with computers and connecting all the information takes someone who is technically oriented,” McEachnie said.
Winter Park Emergency Communications Center
The goals of the Winter Park Emergency Communications Center include handling calls for service in a timely, professional, and compassionate manner through training and experience, using the latest technology and techniques in providing public safety communications to the city, participate in and solicit state-of-the-art training, seminars, and practices to obtain the highest possible level of expertise.
The Emergency Communications Unit is responsible for providing immediate, accurate, and comprehensive dispatching in response to 911 and other requests for police, fire, EMS and city service. The unit also provides reliable communication with other public safety agencies at the local, state and national levels. Using a computer-aided dispatch system, enhanced 911 system and an 800 MHz radio communications network, unit personnel receive and respond to all citizen requests for emergency service and accordingly dispatch the appropriate assistance.
Supporting staff includes, one communications manager, three administrative coordinators, nine full-time operators and four part-time operators. One of the administrative coordinators and three of the full-time operators are considered fire department personnel with the remainder of personnel and activities falling under the police department.
The communications center handles an average of 107,000 events yearly. These events can be broken down into roughly 23,000 Police Case Number Assignments, 5,000 Fire Run Number Assignments, 67,800 Phone Calls, and 88,700 Computer Entries and Inquiries.
The Emergency Communications Unit continues to augment its staff by utilizing communications dispatchers from other law enforcement agencies on a part-time basis to fill in when full-time city dispatchers are not available. The unit is in the implementation of a new Windows 95 based environment computer-aided dispatch system. The new computer-aided dispatch system is tied to mobile data computers in the uniform patrol vehicles that will enhance the communications path of events occurring in real time in the city as received in communications. In conjunction with the new CAD system, the Unit is employing a digitally map driven program that will display information from Global Positioning Satellites to provide Automatic Vehicle Location identification of Police patrol units and active events occurring in and around the City that is displayed both in Communications and to field units. The Unit received and implemented four new Telephone for the Deaf Devices at each dispatch station to be in compliance with Federal Department of Justice Regulations and a new Dictaphone Software driven recording system through the use of the 911 telephone share fund.
The Emergency Communications Unit will coordinate the enhancement of communication services with the implementation of the new Computer Aided Dispatch System, Unit and Event Display Product, and Mobile Data Computers. The Unit has implemented a new Intelligent Answering Point telephone system at each dispatch station, a 911 Call Management System, and a Network Clock Integration through the use of the 911 telephone share fund to enhance the statistical, time stamping, and technological aspects of telephone communications and call handling. The Communications Manager continues to solicit to utilize the 911 telephone share fund to maintain the City’s state-of-the-art equipment in providing service to the clients of the City as well as disaster preparedness in the area of Emergency Communications. The Unit will also continue to increase City participation and representation at various meetings and seminars of the communications associations to maintain the City’s awareness of technological and administrative advances as we move into the next century. Lastly, the Unit will solicit involvement by the Community through the Leadership Winter Park Tours, Citizens Police Academy, and involvement in 911 education.
Source: Winter Park Police Department