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Bergen County, NJ and CODY Systems: partners for real-time information sharing

 

Bergen County is the most populous county in New Jersey, with just under 1 million people. It encompasses 70 municipalities, which include five cities. Sixty-eight of the municipalities have their own autonomous police department. There are a total of 76 separate and distinct police agencies working in Bergen County. Bergen County is located in the northeast part of the state, bordered by the George Washington Bridge (which connects to New York City), Rockland County, N.Y., Paterson, N.J. and Newark, N.J. Under New Jersey laws, the Bergen County Prosecutor is the chief law enforcement officer for the County of Bergen. Current Prosecutor John L. Molinelli utilized seized assets (instead of taxpayer dollars) to purchase CODY Systems’ C.O.B.R.A. solution for the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office (BCPO). C.O.B.R.A. is a real-time, cross-jurisdiction data sharing and analysis system. The integrated solution is updated up-to-the-second, on people, places, vehicles, etc., as well as network-wide analysis to fusion centers. C.O.B.R.A. is designed specifically to work with disparate RMS vendor systems, which has been used to great effect in Bergen County to link municipal and county agencies together.

PSIT talked to Mike Trahey, retired deputy chief and executive officer to the prosecutor and Ken Ardizzone, chief information officer (CIO) about the benefits of CODY’s C.O.B.R.A. system. According to Trahey, the big challenge the BCPO had was how to integrate all the disparate systems and share information with each other. Trahey said they wanted to find a vendor who could extract data from different vendors’ RMS systems, and CODY had the ability to do that.

Prior to C.O.B.R.A., agencies within Bergen County shared data by attending regional meetings once a month and “sharing” information (hard copy police reports) with each other the old-fashioned way. This process (often a 30-day delay) cost officers, as well as agencies, time and money. One of the aspects of C.O.B.R.A. that Trahey and Ardizzone like is the data is not only driven by arrest information, but rather police contact information. “Police contacts” include domestic disturbances, traffic stops, etc., that don’t necessarily result in an arrest. For example, one of the larger cities in Bergen County had 8,000 arrests in one year, but 100,000 police contacts.

Trahey worked Homicide for 15 years, and he said it is especially helpful for an officer on the road to know if an individual he stops has had prior police contacts. The borders in Bergen County are very close, so if certain data is “flagged,” that information can be in an officer’s hand 24/7. According to Trahey, not only can officers query a name, vehicle or incident with C.O.B.R.A., but officers can “drill down” into a report and read narratives that often include more descriptive information. “Thirty towns allow that now,” Trahey reported. As an example of C.O.B.R.A.’s search capabilities, when looking up vehicles, officers can see who is the owner, lessee—basically anyone associated with that vehicle.

Implementation of CODY’s solution differed among the agencies involved. As part of the project, BCPO offered to fund the purchase of a CODY RMS/CMS system, three years service and maintenance and licensing for any law enforcement agency in Bergen County. Approximately 50 percent of the police departments took advantage of the offer. The others stuck with their current RMS vendor, and have been integrated with the C.O.B.R.A. network. Ultimately, through CODY’s ExpressBridge interface, eight different RMS vendors have been integrated. In all cases, CODY’s ExpressBridge interface has made historical information from connected agencies, as well as real-time updates as they occur, available to users countywide.

Trahey said they are still rolling out the CODY solution. Fifty-eight agencies are online right now, with the rest remaining to be integrated. Dealing with 90-day government purchasing process, as well as getting vendors to cooperate takes time. Funding issues also play a role, but HIDTA and UASI grants were used by some of the departments to offset any improvements not funded by the prosecutor’s office.

To get buy-in, BCPO went from department to department and ran mini training sessions. “Some agencies start using the system immediately after the training,” Ardizzone said. For example, in one Detective Bureau, a 17-year-old wanted to file a complaint of assault, but when he gave his personal information, the C.O.B.R.A. system found that he had five prior police contacts within Bergen County. He was a suspected drug dealer, and police found out by calling the other agencies with which he had contact. Considering there are 76 police agencies working in the county, to pinpoint five contacts saved an insurmountable amount of time. Ardizzone cited another example of CODY’s system at work. A patrol officer brought in a suspect at 2 a.m. on a weekend. They ran his information through C.O.B.R.A., and found he had given a false name, so they arrested him. In the past, they wouldn’t have had access to that kind of data in the middle of the night.

In addition to integrating information from different RMS systems, C.O.B.R.A. can make information available virtually as it occurs, according to Dave Heffner, President and Co-CEO, CODY Systems. “It’s revolutionary in the fact that data is moving end to end, from local agency entry to county-wide availability in real time, within six seconds. When officer safety and investigative speed is at issue, real-time is not a luxury, it is a necessity.”

A large percentage of the data comes from bigger cities within the county. “We’re sharing more data than most,” Trahey noted. Local police departments often have information on terrorists, not the big cities. “What may be critical to one [department] could be irrelevant to another department,” Ardizzone explained. The goal of BCPO is to have the best way to share data securely between agencies.

Ardizzone said BCPO is training on both large and small scales. They are even training at the Police Recruiting Academy. The training never ends, as getting the information out to the end user is a cultural change for some. “’Train the trainer’ applies to even the top IT people,” Ardizzone related. The BCPO has to meet with every department to explain the financial impact of implementing a new system. They also revisit departments to train new hires after officers retire.

The graphing tool within the C.O.B.R.A. system can be helpful for chiefs, Ardizzone said. For example, a chief can select all burglaries and graph it by time of the day, day of the week, etc. Chiefs can then take that information and use it for scheduling needed overtime for administration personnel, officers, etc. With the graphing tool, officers can select certain agencies with which to compare data. The demographics of Bergen County vary with the northern part being suburban, while the southern part is more urban. “With our highway system, some towns are the arteries through the county,” Ardizzone explained.

The BCPO received accreditation by the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police and was recognized nationally by CALEA. One major success for the partnership between the BCPO and CODY was the successful conversion of over 40 years of valuable information from the County’s legacy Municipal Arrest Reporting System (“MARS”). Working closely together, CODY and the BCPO’s technical personnel converted this critical historical information from the MARS mainframe into a modern database format, and made the information available through C.O.B.R.A.

According to Trahey, who has been with BCPO for 30 years, current Prosecutor Molinelli came to BCPO eight years ago with a great grasp of technology. “We got to where we are today because of his vision,” Trahey stated.

Published in Public Safety IT, Nov/Dec 2010

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