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Police field patrol is fine-tuned with mobile, integrated RMS

Written by Rob Thorp

If there is one aspect of Officer Rob Thorp’s work for the New London, N.H. Police Department that he can’t live without, it is the records management software that is installed on each patrol unit’s mobile data terminal (MDT). “All of us in law enforcement who work and pretty much live in the field, in our cruisers, know how important it is to have the right information literally at our fingertips at the time of an incident,” Thorp stated.

Thorp recalled the time when they had records information on cases scattered in many different areas. Personal files and Word documents were on computers, of course, but that’s where time savings and efficiency became hamstrung. “You’d have a report, but it would be sort of floating out there, and there was no way for anyone else to access it if the hardcopy was missing from its case file,” Thorp said. In other words, whoever generated the report would have to be contacted, come into the station, and access the file for anyone else to see it.

This is the point at which New London’s Police Chief David Seastrand decided that purchasing RMS software to automate records was the only way to make records and other vital information accessible by anyone in the police agency. This purchase included the Crimestar® CAD system. The department later acquired this same software company’s Mobile Digital Communicator (MDC) system.

The New London, N.H. Police Department serves a population of nearly 4,300 people across 13 communities. They have eight full-time sworn officers and four part-time officers. New London PD is also the Regional Dispatch Center for six surrounding towns, each of which uses the same RMS software. The CAD system is installed at the dispatch center. This setup is ideal because now information can be shared among police departments in these multiple towns via the RMS while allowing New London PD to maintain control of its own records management system.

One of the most valuable components of an RMS software system is a comprehensive database, especially when it can be accessed on an MDT. The Crimestar RMS system’s Master Name and Address Search is no exception. This index provides officers with the ability to capture basic identifying information about a subject. Yet officers can also track a subject’s address and phone number history, as well as any alias names the subject has been known to use. Also helpful is that the index has a Known Offender feature where specific traits and characteristics about a subject can be maintained.

The software provides a Master Vehicle Index, too, with a chronological view of all references to a specific vehicle regardless of the module(s) in which it exists. These indexes have saved officers so much time as far as being able to locate people quickly, find crucial information, and put cases together in a timely fashion. “Before, we were actually looking through phone books as one of our sources to find this information,” Thorp commented.

When an officer uses the master name index to call up a subject while on patrol, he not only gets the subject’s address, but any involvements the subject has had with the police department or any other police departments that New London dispatches for locally. “So, you’re getting a whole bunch of information all at once just by one search,” Thorp said.

For example, electronic bench warrants come up all the time, according to Thorp. One of the most common examples is people driving after a suspension. An officer pulls someone over for a simple traffic infraction, or for an out-of-date or unregistered vehicle sticker, and the officer runs the motor vehicle history on the MDT. Then a search comes up showing that the subject’s license and registration are suspended, or that the vehicle is stolen, and he should be arrested.

“What is great about this kind of database search is that our officers don’t need to bother the dispatcher because we can run all of this information right from the car,” Thorp explained. The database gives enough information so that Thorp or any other officer can decide whether or not to make an arrest at the scene with the subject.

Silent Dispatching

What is most important to Thorp as he goes on each shift is the MDC module. This is a powerful and secure digital dispatch/data communications system for field officers. It allows field patrol cars to be silently dispatched to calls via Crimestar’s CAD. The MDC also allows New London’s patrol units to monitor all CAD event and unit activity in real time, view vital call details, and create new CAD events from the field. Basically, the MDC gives officers the ability to communicate in stealth mode. “We sign off at a location, give the dispatcher the information on what we’re doing and where we are, and they just acknowledge via their terminal and no one else knows where we are,” Thorp said.

Another huge benefit with Crimestar’s system is its “Be On Lookout” (BOL) feature, which captures information on people, vehicles or items that Thorp and his fellow officers should be aware of and watch out for. “This module lets you enter a narrative description of the person, vehicle or circumstance that should be known. And it even allows you to capture and imbed a digital photo that can be very helpful for field knowledge or identification,” Thorp stated.

According to Thorp, the BOL feature is really a lifesaver because if you have a suicidal subject and the subject is armed and has threatened police officers, this will come right up. It indicates that you need to be careful and maybe get some backup before you take on that vehicle you’ve just stopped.

The best part of this whole system (RMS, CAD and MDC) is that Thorp can keep the dispatcher informed of what he’s doing without actually talking to her, and he can respond to incidents independent of dispatch. “The records management system is great, but with the MDC it really pulls everything together. The CAD and RMS make the MDC work as a unit,” Thorp stated.

The fact that this whole battery of systems is mobile is helpful, too, because Thorp can now enter his information into the RMS, do database searches, and prepare reports right from the patrol unit. “An added advantage to the system is that my midnight officer can synchronize the computers in our units and all of my information is typically there the next day,” Thorp noted.

So, what’s the bottom-line payoff with Crimestar’s software? “Well, because of it my productivity in the field has increased by 35 to 40 percent. That means I can stop five more cars on a shift,” Thorp said. But it also means New London PD officers can stay on the road more consistently, for eight hours per shift, as opposed to maybe four or five hours in the past.

Dispatch and CAD

As dispatcher for the New London Police Department, Heather Wood interfaces with Thorp and other officers daily using the Crimestar CAD system. “We had been considering adopting this system in 2002 because we were using an old program and were having a lot of problems with it, namely temporary system crashes,” Wood said. In 2003, New London PD went live with the Crimestar CAD and RMS systems and adopted the MDC system later.

New London PD had high expectations for the new CAD system because they dispatch for police, fire and ambulance in their region. Because New London PD is the central dispatch for four neighboring police departments and numerous other public safety agencies, a lot of their calls for service involve all of these agencies. And, they needed a system in which they could log all the information just once so it could be utilized by these agencies.

Calls for Service Yield More Information

The RMS is what New London PD looked at first; the CAD system was the next priority because they dispatch so much for the officers as far as information entry so the officers have more time to stay on the road. “The Crimestar program really gives us the opportunity to include more information that may not necessarily be important at the time, but it certainly is if you ever need to go back and view it, or if it’s linked to some other call or incident,” Wood said.

For instance, New London PD had an officer in town with a hit-and-run accident, and all he had was the first name of a subject who lived in another town, plus a description of the vehicle. Based on this information, they started searching this one particular first name, which was quite common, and in searching it were able to link a vehicle to the subject’s stepfather. This, in turn, triggered an investigation, and they were able to decipher that it was this person who was involved in the hit-and-run incident.

“The greatest benefit I see with the CAD system is we’re able to include more information at the start of a call for service,” Wood explained. Then, if an officer needs to pull off the side of the road to add any notes he needs for that record, he can do so, but it may not be urgent to do this when the officer is actually on the call. This makes call response and management easier for the officers.

A top priority for New London’s dispatch operation is to make sure they’re always recording all information. “This is the biggest thing—having a place for all the information so we can get to it if we need it,” Wood said. This is why they print a CAD sheet from Crimestar if they have a request for discovery on the radio transmissions. Then, they go back to their recording program and are able to pull tapes according to what’s been logged in Crimestar so they can get to the transmissions more easily.

The CAD system enables New London to post their events on the computer screen, and it tells them what status they’re in, whether they are pending or an officer has been dispatched to it, or if he’s there at the scene. “This way, we don’t miss anything,” Wood noted.

Criminal Record Checks

Crimestar offers the ability to produce Uniform Crime Reports (UCRs), which can be filed with any police department’s local or state filing authority, or the FBI. “Officers will double check with us on a highly suspicious subject so we can check and verify. Here at dispatch, we would do a UCR or an NCIC (National Crime Information Center) confirmation. Our officers can see this initial confirmation data on their mobile computers via the MDC system. That’s when they would enlist our help whereby we would make calls to verify warrants,” Wood explained.

If officers needed to do a more thorough criminal record check, that’s something that dispatch would do for them. The officer does the initial checking for anything active—any stolen vehicles, wanted persons, supervised release, protection orders and the like. Wood said they have criminal history requests from their officers daily. “For dispatch and the New London PD, these capabilities give officers the opportunity to patrol more. Furthermore, because we are a regional dispatch center and handle police, fire and ambulance calls for nine towns, our CAD system offers some excellent efficiencies,” Wood stated.

For example, New London PD could potentially have an officer in one town on a motor vehicle stop, and at the same time there might be a very large structure fire in another town. The Crimestar MDC can allow Wood to know where the officer is once he enters his information into the RMS/CAD programs.

As a result, Wood knows where that officer is on his motor vehicle stop, yet he would be able to run the incident information himself if he just wanted to know the driver’s status. Meanwhile, Wood can deal with the structure fire in the other town, and the officer does not have to wait for Wood to get back to him.

Finally, it is invaluable that the MDC system improves officer safety by having GPS and mapping capabilities. Once an officer is signed onto the system, dispatch can pull up the mapping program and see exactly where he is. “We’ve used this feature quite often and can see all of the officers we dispatch for and know where they are. We can zoom in and get a pretty close location of where they are. It’s definitely a lifesaver,” Wood said.

Officer Rob Thorp and Dispatcher Heather Wood are with the New London, N.H. Police Department. Photos courtesy of Crimestar Corp.

Published in Public Safety IT, May/Jun 2010

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