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Wired on Main Street: the Skokie, IL Police Department

Written by Tim Burke

Have you ever thought about all the different technologies you use on your job in public safety? Starting with the officer in the patrol car and moving to the dispatcher, the IT officer and the supervisor inside the station, we wanted to ask this question: In what way is your department wired up?

For this particular assignment, PSIT looked at a mid-sized agency of the type many public safety officers might work in or identify with—not an especially large, big-city department nor a rural one, but somewhere in the middle. So PSIT took an in-depth look at a suburban police department in the Midwest.

Every town has a main street that represents the character of its citizens, commerce and city services. One such community, located in suburban Chicago, epitomizes how public safety officers on Main Street are working to meet the requirements of the modern, computerized world we’ll playfully call “Tech Street.”

The Village of Skokie, IL, located 16 miles northwest of downtown Chicago and 12 miles east of O’Hare International Airport, is that town. It provides high-quality government services to more than 66,000 residents, 24,000 households and 2,400 businesses. The town is served by 110 sworn officers, has 29 patrol cars and has one Public Safety MIS officer, Steven Sieghart. Recently, he answered questions about the services and technologies found in this suburban police department (It is actually located on Main Street, too!). He walked us through the computer equipment, software and systems that help make the Skokie PD run smoothly. As you read, think about how effectively your municipality’s “Main Street” and “Tech Street” have intersected. Let’s join Officer Sieghart and fellow Skokie Police Officer John Kilcullen as they narrate us along their department’s Tech Street, starting in the squad car.

“Each of our police cars has a Panasonic Toughbook laptop computer,” Sieghart said. “We’ve used them for a couple of years and had no problems. Officers use them to communicate with dispatch. They are rugged duty. We rolled a squad car not long ago, and the car was smashed up but the laptop survived fine.”

Attached to the computer are a GPS and an external keyboard. Each car has an Epson printer and a digital camera, but with no videotapes or CDs. Kilcullen explained, “Our video system is a custom product developed by Insight Videonet in Rancho Cucamonga, CA. This product works well and stands up to even the worst crashes.” According to the company’s Web site, they offer “automated video event management that significantly reduces the amount of time and money you are spending to manage all your video and other digital assets.” “The system is fully automatic with the exception of signing on to the viewer,” Kilcullen continued.

“The system automatically starts when an officer activates the lights or when the microphone is turned on. Another activation is the speed. Once a vehicle hits 60 mph based on GPS, the system will start.” There are other ways to start the video as well. He went on to say that the video automatically downloads to the server without any action by the officer. An officer can then review his video for report writing.

“The Insight software runs the camera system in the car,” Sieghart explained. “We have one front-mounted camera, and the officer wears a wireless microphone. The benefit of the system is found in making the traffic stop.” As everyone knows from the caught-on-tape television shows, once the videotape evidence is shown in court, the case is over. “When the officer makes a recording, it uploads to the central server automatically through relays mounted in several areas around town. All the officer has to do is drive near one and the upload takes place. It is then viewable by supervisors,” Sieghart said.
Training for the Insight system takes about two hours, and the video system is in all patrol vehicles. It has been running for five years but is due for an upgrade in 2011. The company comes out for yearly service and updates. “For the cost, this is an excellent system,” Sieghart added. “It provides safety, and as an IT officer, it helps support my job.”

Another stop in our walk down Tech Street includes the records management system. Kilcullen told us that “a company called HTE/Sungard, located in Lake Mary, FL, provides us with two programs that are used by our officers. The first is a product called the MDB, or Mobile Data Browser. Basically, this is our connection to dispatch and anything related to dispatching. It allows us to communicate between cars and the station, including our desk officer.”

According to the company’s Web site, “SunGard Public Sector provides software, services and support that apply the latest technologies to law enforcement, fire, EMT, and courts and jails solutions. These offerings help agencies prevent crime, protect officers and engage their communities.” Kilcullen indicated that officers are also provided with a product called Field Reporting which is used to type police reports, except for accidents. The report is done in the car and transferred to the station for approval. “Everything dispatch tells us also shows on computer,” Sieghart said. “This is valuable as a silent dispatch method which prevents someone unfriendly to law enforcement scanning our radio traffic.”

A partner company, Advanced Public Safety Inc. (APS) located in Deerfield Beach, FL, supplies Skokie PD with a program to write their tickets. Officers use the program to do all traffic citations, warnings and parking tickets, and they use the printers to print the tickets out. They also fill in a racial profiling section along with the ticket to meet the requirements of the State of Illinois.

The State of Illinois provides a program called MCR, which stands for Mobile Crash Reporting. Kilcullen said they are using this in the cars. The people involved in an auto accident are given printed copies of the reporting form on the street. The report is then sent in for approval.

Tech Street has a high speed lane too. Sieghart explained that Skokie Police officers are now using the Citrix platform, taken from the IT world, allowing them to run multiple programs. “We can push out multiple applications to the squad cars using this platform, and we are using it live right now. With Citrix, you can utilize 10 IP addresses instead of the usual six, which obviously lets you do more.”

Citrix is an operating system for public safety, like Windows is for PC. Officers can log on to the server to access the system using the Cook County program ICLEAR, which stands for Illinois Citizen Law Enforcement Analysis and Reporting System. This system shares arrest and crime incident information statewide in Illinois. Squad cars don’t have access to the Internet, but through Citrix and the ICLEAR program, officers can access the information pertinent to doing their jobs. “Skokie PD is trying to be equal to or ahead of the tech wave,” Sieghart said. Another way to do so takes us inside the command center to the booking area where we find officers logging in to a system called Live Scan, also known as the Criminal Apprehension and Booking System. This is, in essence, a digital scanner of fingerprints and digital photos that connects to a mainframe in Joliet, IL (located about an hour drive southwest of Chicago) to be processed in what is essentially an electronic warehouse of records.

Sieghart said, “The State of Illinois houses fingerprints on their digital system, and any agency in Cook County can look at an arrestee’s photo. I can look up the bad guy and get his photo, his police record and any pertinent information. This project was started by Cook County.” According to the Cook County Sheriff’s Police Web site, at www.ccspd.org, they “maintain Live Scan computer systems at 122 suburban police agencies, including the Cook County Sheriff’s Police Department. Unit personnel are available around the clock for troubleshooting and assistance with user errors.”

Sieghart said, “Each of our officers goes through a four-hour class on how to use the system. The benefits are that an officer can use Live Scan to automatically search the digital warehouse database of offenders and can query by age, height and even tattoos to locate an offender faster than ever before. This is much more efficient than working through a paper trail, and it has proven to be 100% accurate.”

Besides these features at Skokie PD, Kilcullen mentioned that on each computer, the officer is allowed to access many other programs that they use on the street, including the Skokie PD Intranet site. “This has many useful items on it, including Policy and Procedures, maps, village codes, training bulletins and manuals. It also allows officers to go to a program to look up laws, including traffic codes. Officers also have access to the police database and the village hall database,” Kilcullen said.

He added that some of their specialty officers have other programs. For instance, NIPAS members (Northern Illinois Police Alarm System, a joint venture of 94 agencies ensuring effective police mutual aid in times of natural disaster) and K-9 have mapping programs that work with built-in GPS. The K-9 uses a training program called KATS (K9 Active Tracking System by Eden Consulting Group) for tracking information. He noted that “there are a lot more possibilities we are looking at but just do not have the resources at this time to complete.”

Many public safety agencies, both large and small, have a list of emerging technologies they want and need to do their jobs safely and effectively. Today, some, like Skokie PD, are merging Main Street values with Tech Street efficiencies to achieve their goals. We hope these examples showed you just how well technologies are being put to use by professionally trained public safety officers to better serve their communities, all the way from car to command center.

Tim Burke is a freelance writer and also an editor, designer and photographer who lives and works in Skokie, IL. He can be contacted by e-mail at trb4320@yahoo.com. Photos by Tim Burke.

Published in Public Safety IT, Nov/Dec 2009

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