Spillman Mobile Solutions Share Critical Data
By: Madeleine Roe
For public safety agencies across the United States, the downturn in the economy has become enemy No. 1. The problem is doubly painful to agencies because a lack of jobs in a community fuels criminal activity, causes financial distress for homeowners, and decreases funds available to agencies. So, not only do public safety professionals have to contend with increasing demands for services, they have to do so with fewer resources. The downturn in the economy has forced agencies to consider several options for saving money, including decreased salaries, mandatory staff furloughs, and cuts to community services.
In short, agencies have learned to do more with less. For these agencies, any tool that can save money and increase efficiency is a welcome addition to their protocol. Modern public safety software like computer-aided dispatch (CAD), records management systems (RMS), jail management systems (JMS), and mobile records products help agencies work better, save time, and save money.
Sergeant Sarita Titus is the network and database administrator for the Gary Police Department in Indiana. She said Gary has really felt the impact of the economic crisis. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the city’s unemployment rate more than doubled in the span of a few months, from 4.7 percent in April, 2008 to 10.3 percent in February, 2009. “We are a financially distressed city—not only in our government, but in our residents. There just aren’t a lot of job opportunities,” Sgt. Titus stated.
Sgt. Titus explained what that means for the Gary Police Department. “We have been majorly impacted by shrinking budgets. We’re to the point where just upgrading something takes a long time if we even have the option to do that. We haven’t had any raises in the last eight years for our sworn officers. We’ve laid off civilian staff to the point where it’s just a skeleton crew.”
Joseph Gallagher, patrolman for Gary, indicates that they have seen an increase in neighborhood crime. “There are just more and more abandoned houses,” Gallagher explained. “There are entire blocks that are just abandoned. It seems like there is an uptick in burglaries in residences, and problems with scrappers. We also have gang problems, and those are primarily neighborhood gangs.”
Yakima County in Washington provides another example of what happens when the economy starts to shrink. At the Yakima County integrated public safety consortium, Systems administrator Richard Springsteen said that even though the county hasn’t been hit as hard as other places, the effects are painful.
“I think that the economy did have a noticeable impact because we had to lay off jail staff and we lost officers all across the board,” Springsteen explained. “All agencies in the city and county have been impacted by the budget. That includes the D.A., the courts, human resources, mental health—they’ve all seen cuts. And there’s no way that’s not having an effect on the community.”
Wise County in Virginia has also been hurt by the economy. Assistant E9-1-1 Coordinator for the Wise County Sheriff’s Office, Billie Laney, talked about how the economy is impacting all types and sizes of communities.
“Where we’re a rural community, the bad economy is just hitting us,” Laney stated. “In unemployment, for one, there are a lot of people out of work, and that affects crime rate like petty thefts and shoplifting. I think it affects drug use too, because people get depressed and they just start abusing.”
Wise County is starting to see increases in problems like repossessions, families losing their homes, vacant buildings, homelessness, and closing businesses. “The rate of people losing their homes and business buildings is something we are starting to see [increase],” Laney said. “We had a mom-and-pop style heating and cooling business that just shut down after 75 years in business. That’s had an effect on the town.”
Even small increases in business closures can put a burden on calls for service for the office. “Mostly what you see is panhandling around the small shopping areas we have. There’s a lot more people asking for money or food. Route 23 is where you can see quite a few of them asking for places to stay.”
Commander Neil Sexton of the Lyons Police Department in Illinois said the economy has forced his department to make hard decisions on where funding gets spent. “Jobs are still hard to find; we are seeing the struggles same as anywhere else,” Sexton explained. “We have reduced our funding dramatically with costs for salaries going up and tax revenues going down. It is creating a negative impact on our budget. If costs for salaries and budgets go up, that means less money for training and equipment. We have to find ways to do more with less, and it is tough to get that done.”
Doing More With Less
Agencies that are seeing increasing demands for service while working under tighter budget constrictions look for cost-effective ways to improve efficiency. The problems of the down economy can offer agencies an opportunity to assess what resources they have to work with and make improvements to how their agencies function.
One place where agencies are finding ways to increase efficiency is with their RMS, CAD and mobile software systems. If an agency is working under a decades-old software suite or using a system that is not meeting their needs, cuts to an agency’s budget can lead it to explore what else is out there.
Laney mentioned that in Wise County they’ve been using newly implemented mobile software from Spillman Technologies after searching for something to help personnel do their jobs while in the field. She said that improvements to their mobile system help her team work efficiently and do their jobs better by enabling field personnel to access critical information away from the office. The Spillman system allows them instant access to name records and information they would have normally had to request over the radio or retrieve at the office.
“The feedback I’ve gotten so far is that everyone really likes the ability to search all sorts of information,” Laney said. “There is so much data going into the system that we can use. And the investigators are loving the type of information they’ve been able to pull out. I think the turnaround time in getting the cases solved is a lot faster because of the information that we have.”
Communities can take the savings even further with the ability to participate in shared software systems for CAD, RMS, mobile, and jail software. Not only do shared systems allow neighboring sheriff’s offices, police departments, fire departments, jails, and communications centers to save money by distributing the cost of purchasing and administering a shared software system, it also allows them to increase efficiency by sharing information. Neighboring agencies can turn to vendors like Spillman Technologies to build a shared system that meets their individual needs while helping keep costs low to the community.
Springsteen said that three years ago, the Yakima County Sheriff’s Office and six communication centers, seven jail centers, and 25 fire departments all brought on a shared Spillman system that allowed them to work more efficiently. But this system wouldn’t have been considered if the economy, and their budgets, hadn’t been a motivating factor. The first major cost-cutting measure was to reduce the amount of redundant hardware each agency had, including maintenance costs.
“If the economy hadn’t tanked, I don’t think we would have gotten everyone to go on one system,” Springsteen noted. “We had three servers and the cities and towns on different systems so we just merged all that into this one.”
Springsteen said this new system also helps improve efficiency. The agencies on the system share information in real time. “Yakima is a big county. We have a lot of gang activity, and before, someone could be arrested in Sunnyside and no one in Toppenish would know about that. Now that everyone is working off the same system, everyone in Toppenish can see records from Sunnyside and everywhere.”
According to Sergeant Titus, a software system like Spillman can help agencies save time, money, and resources. “We use our software with our daily operations. There is a lot of benefit to being on a shared system with the rest of the county. I do believe the amount of data in the database helps our officers, for example, on the way to different homes or answering calls, so they can look and see what has taken place there already.”
Gallagher agrees, and said they use their shared Spillman system for information every time they respond to a call for service. Accessing information from many different agencies gives all of the officers a full view of the criminals in their area.
“When we are utilizing the database shared with the other agencies, and we search for a name record, most of the time we run across someone who is already in the system,” Gallagher added.
Commander Sexton said the functionality of their system improves his officers’ efficiency.
“Spillman is definitely a force multiplier. I can only wish that I had this software capability on the street when I was a patrolman 25 years ago,” Sexton said. “The information that is available at my officer’s fingertips with images, warnings and records is amazing. Now officers don’t have to deal with not having the information they need to do their job. Sharing information on who has had contact with a particular person is helpful, so we can plan a response based on the history of encounters.”
Sexton also agrees that sharing the costs with two other agencies eased the impact of the purchase. “It has helped all of us,” Sexton stated. “We’re forced to do more with less. The maintenance fees can take a chunk of your budget and hardware can get expensive. But sharing those costs across the board helps you out and helps out each individual agency.”
Overall, having one software system has helped the agencies on his system access information they need quickly and easily. “In addition, it has helped us run specific reports that in days past we would have had to do with calculators and spreadsheets. And now we can just run reports, so we can populate that information very quickly. We share the information pretty openly, so it saves us money as far as time goes. Now I don’t have to physically run over to the agency to get a report; my officer can just access it here.”
The effects of the economy have forced public safety agencies to make hard decisions about how to use the funds in their shrinking budgets in order to be as effective as they can. These communities may also be experiencing greater problems including increases in crime thanks to the difficult economy. Agencies looking to do more with the resources they have are turning to public safety software like Spillman’s integrated CAD, RMS, Jail, and mobile solutions to allow their personnel to access records in the field, do more with the information they put in the system, and share critical data as well as costs with neighboring agencies.
Madeleine Roe is the MarCom Supervisor for Spillman Technologies. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.