British Columbia (BC) is Canada’s most western province with total land and freshwater area occupying an area larger than France and Germany combined. British Columbia occupies about 10% of Canada’s land surface and has 4.5 million people. This population is policed by 11 municipal police agencies, a provincial transit police (GVTAPS), a tribal police force and a provincial organized crime agency (CFSEU).
Outside these urban areas, Canada’s national police force, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) do the contract policing but primarily in rural areas or jurisdictions that cannot afford a municipal police department. These agencies had their own stand-alone RMS with the exception of the RCMP, which had its database known as (PIRS) Police Information Records System.
In May 1998, the British Columbia Association of Chiefs of Police adopted the vision of a common information system for the province of BC. Until this time, the separate RMS systems were not shared unless an officer knew someone he could phone and ask about a specific file or person. Essentially, the criminals didn’t respect jurisdictional borders, but the police did. This led to various law enforcement agencies targeting the same criminals without ever knowing what each agency was doing.
It was almost impossible to read another agency’s reports because, of course, they all wanted to protect their own information. Front-line officers rarely ever saw files on criminals unless they were handled by their own department, and even then it was an arduous process to find them.
Access from the patrol car was nonexistent; a trip to the police station was mandatory. Unfortunately, this narrow-minded thinking has led to many embarrassing consequences. One only has to look at the horrific consequences in the province of Ontario with serial killer Paul Bernardo and how law enforcement was severely criticized over the lack of information sharing. Time for a Change
Then along came the Police Records Information Management Environment of British Columbia (PRIME-BC) project. Phase 1 saw police officers in Port Moody, Vancouver, and Richmond (RCMP) successfully convert from a paper-based records environment to an electronic environment. The Phase 1 project was funded and delivered under the auspices of the Emergency Communications for Southwest BC Corp. (E-Comm), which is a quasi-municipal corporation owned by its users. E-Comm has a technology and physical infrastructure that is likely the most advanced in the world.
Future participating agencies were funded through the Province of British Columbia, which has adopted PRIME-BC as the provincial police data-sharing network.
Today there are more than 2,228 mobile work stations (MWS) operational in British Columbia, with more to follow. The total number of sworn officers in British Columbia is 7,788. As of Dec. 31, 2007, 93% of all the sworn officers are on PRIME-BC.
There are presently four PRIME-BC servers in the province: The LMD server, which serves all police agencies (independent and RCMP) in the Lower Mainland of Vancouver; the VIR server, which serves all police agencies (independent and RCMP) on Vancouver Island; the NSE server, which serves the rest of the province; and CFSEU, which serves the Organized Crime Agency of BC.
Originally it was thought that E-Comm would benefit by having a single tri-service CAD system that would integrate police, fire and ambulance services while maintaining separate RMS systems. Altaris CAD was chosen to interface with the Versaterm RMS and mobile client. Interfacing costs were prohibitive and often technically restrictive.
Many of the Versaterm’s mobile features could not be used by the officers in the field because the Altaris CAD interface didn’t have the ability to map data over to the Versaterm fields or simply didn’t allow for that particular function. Eventually, it became clear that police, fire and ambulance could not use the same CAD system as their information requirements are very different. Privacy laws do not allow for police to see ambulance medical records without a warrant, so trying to stay on the same platform while restricting access was extremely difficult and financially irresponsible.
In 2004, the decision was made to allow for the entire province of BC to adapt the Versaterm PoliceCAD, which allowed for seamless integration with the Versaterm RMS and mobile client (MDT). The lesson learned was clear; the preferred solution is a commercial off-the-shelf solution that allows for complete integration between all components and a single RMS vendor. If someone in your agency wants to design his own or mix and match software systems, then the project team should get everyone to chip in to send that person on an indefinite vacation. In the long run, it will be much cheaper.
The bottom line is that software vendors are protective of their code, and rightly so. This doesn’t work well for the customer who wants the end product to work exactly as his design specifications. Pre-integrated with CAD and mobile products across releases will ensure your officers highest productivity.
PRIME-BC features one-time data entry, which means that call information is never keyed in more than once. A 9-1-1 call-taker enters initial information about the occurrence, followed by additional information from the police dispatcher, officers attending the incident and finally the follow-up investigators. Data is transmitted wirelessly via a laptop computer that may be taken into a crime scene by the investigating police officer.
Once the information is entered, it is sent to police headquarters where it is checked for accuracy. It then becomes part of the police RMS. Stolen or lost property can be entered onto the national computer system (CPIC) within minutes instead of the hours or days it used to take.
On March 21, 2001, the Vancouver Police Department went live with its rollout of PRIME-BC and the Versadex RMS application. Since that time, officers have been using new laptop computers that are removable from their mounts to file reports electronically and to access information in the Provincial RMS or PRIME. The Vancouver Police Panasonic CF-29 laptops are configured with internal wireless cards from Sierra Wireless, which are set up on the local Rogers “EDGE” network in the Lower Mainland of BC. EDGE stands for enhanced data rate for GSM evolution and is the upgrade from GPRS, general packet radio service.
Eventually, the next phase in GSM wireless will be the move from EDGE to WCDMA / UMTS. This will bring wireless speeds to new levels while improving coverage and penetration. The Versaterm mobile client MDT is very efficient and requires minimal bandwidth even with active AVL/GPS mapping application known as “Maplight.”
Officers no longer re-key information already entered by the 9-1-1 call-takers unless it needs correcting. The Versaterm mobile client (MDT) accepts the dispatch information in a clean, well laid out format called a “Dispatch Ticket” that is designed for an officer in a moving vehicle to read. Remember, mobile applications are just that, mobile. Simple things like font, color, and layout often get confused with something that looks good on a desktop in an office. Delivery of critical tombstone information in a safe manner is paramount.
The mobile application should have a large font to display the address of the incident, and hazard information should not require the officer to dig for it using multiple key strokes while operating a motor vehicle, potentially at high speed and with lights and siren activated. Some type of mapping application, preferably with AVL/GPS functionality should also be displayed in the dispatch ticket.
In Vancouver, the officers send their reports from the field using Panasonic CF-29 laptop computers, which they can leave in their patrol vehicles or take out and use at a restaurant or community police station. This keeps the officers in their assigned patrol areas as apposed to behind a desk at the police station.
This proved beneficial when a husband, who was charged with threatening and assaulting his wife, violated a no-contact order and tried to gain access to her house. He fled when the police cruiser arrived in response to the 9-1-1 call. After interviewing the distraught victim, the officers sat around the corner in their car and began to type the report on their laptop computer. The suspect returned shortly after, and when he did, the officers quickly moved in from around the corner and he was arrested.
On the laptops, officers not only have the Versaterm MDT application, but the actual report writing is done in an application called Mobile Report Entry (MRE). This application resides on the laptop and is essentially the “Word Processor” software that is agency configurable for specific case types. If an agency wants officers to fill in specific fields, then those fields can be made mandatory. The UCR 2.0 and NIBRS compliance is standard, and automatic report routing is done off the UCR code selected by the officer on the first page of the report.
This is a key part of the change from the previous paper-based system where reports took weeks or sometimes months to be entered into stand-alone Vancouver Police Department RMS. Some key benefits that have increased officer safety and efficiency are things like offender mugshots delivered in seconds to the patrol car.
Before using the Versadex RMS and mobile application, an officer would have to return to the police station and access a stand-alone offender photo database and still have no way to send it electronically out to the officers in the field. Police work is all about identification, and having a photo of an offender in the vehicle while dealing with suspects who are less than honest about who they are is invaluable.
PRIME-BC breaks down all jurisdictional issues with regards to information sharing. Any police officer in British Columbia can see any other police officer’s information within minutes. Having the ability to read all the police reports ever written about a suspect from the patrol car on the street is invaluable and allows greater efficiency during investigations. When a larger scale incident occurs where many officers are assigned and there are various crime scenes, officers can submit their reports from anywhere.
The Versadex “Transcription Q,” which is staffed by a civilian quality control person, matches up all names against a “Master Name Index” to screen out possible duplication of subjects. All reports entered under one unique file number mate up and can be viewed within minutes of entry. When detectives are called out to a major incident, they can log on at the office the moment they arrive and read the initial police officers’ reports before attending the scene.
The Versadex RMS also allows officers to do even more with access through the Desktop Report Entry (DRE). Investigators involved in more complex investigations access the RMS through the DRE and have the ability to supplement or open files under investigation. Front line patrol officers can also be trained in DRE, and this allows them to also make report entries from a desktop computer.
Versadex has a workflow component that allows front-line officers to have their reports left in their supervisor’s “handle.” The supervisor can always review the files for further follow-up and send them back to the originating officer or conclude them if no further action is required. Case management and routing of files is done by the supervisors from a desktop computer. The system is intuitive to use by employing in-context help, prompts, lookup tables and drop-down menus that increase efficiency.
Versadex has comprehensive security and information release controls. If an investigation is sensitive, the assigned investigators can make part of a file “private” whereby specific portions are not viewable without clearance. Also, if required, an entire report can be made “invisible” to all officers except those with approval to be working on the file. The ability to “query “or “browse” an RMS system is invaluable to follow-up investigators.
You query when you know what you’re looking for, and you browse when you’re not sure what you’re looking for. If a follow-up investigator has a suspect in custody who was wearing a red bandana and he wishes to see how many other crimes were committed by suspects wearing red bandanas, it should be easy to browse the system using what’s called a “wildcard” search or “keyword” search of all text pages submitted by officers.
The Versadex RMS also has numerous components that can be added on as an agency becomes more comfortable with electronic reporting. Modules like Fleet Management, Court, Arrest and Jail Booking, Mobile Ticketing, Personnel, Property Office, Crime Analysis and Document Imaging are all integrated with the Versadex RMS and can be added as the customer agency requires.
Another benefit is the system’s ability to facilitate multiple queries with a single subject entry. The Versaterm MDT “Person Query” mask allows for the officer to either key in a name or use a two-dimensional bar code reader and swipe the digital ID card to fill the mask. Then with a single key stroke, the information is sent wirelessly to the Versaterm Message Switch (VMC) and redirected to multiple databases across the country.
Within seconds, the officer gets a response back from the Canadian Police Information Center (CPIC), PRIME (RMS), RCMP PIRS, Canadian Firearms Registry, and the Police Information Portal (PIP). Attached to the RMS response is also the last known booking photograph in a small jpeg format. Having a color digital photograph delivered to the front-line officers’ laptops in seconds has proven invaluable for suspect identity issues and saved valuable investigative time.
When an officer queries a license plate, everything is done automatically. Entry of a single license plate returns back a 72-hour “no hit” to show the officer if the plate has been run within the last 72 hours by any other law enforcement agency in Canada, CPIC, PRIME, and the Motor Vehicle Branch (MVB) registered owner information database. Intuitively, the system looks at the MVB information and automatically picks the driver’s license information from the registered owner and does a CPIC persons query and a driver’s license history query. All this information is returned to the officer in a matter of seconds.
An example of the system’s efficiency occurred when officers in Vancouver observed a male talking on the phone while standing by his sports car. They ran the license plate and there was a negative response returned from the national CPIC system. PRIME generated an additional query of the vehicle’s registered owner information, and it was learned that the owner of the car was charged with drug trafficking and had a bail condition of “not to talk on a cellular phone while in a vehicle.” The officers stopped the vehicle, and the occupant was the owner and was still talking on his cellular phone. He was arrested for violating his bail conditions.
In order to “vertically” integrate the databases of the participating police agencies, a product known as the Police Information Portal (PIP) has been purchased and installed. It provides a clearinghouse facility that can be queried for information on entities (people and vehicles) and occurrences. At the same time, it enables agencies to set their own access rights in order to prevent disclosure of certain records and to create audit trails that log which agencies, and which agency personnel, accessed which records.
The PIP is integrated directly into the desktop and wireless components of Versadex. This means that a front-line officer can “check” a box to query the PIP at the same time a local records query and a CPIC query is entered. The PIP does not store any police records. It has to “hotlink” back to an agency database to retrieve the report. PIP has connected all of Canadian Law Enforcement with PRIME-BC.
Remember to review all the needs of your department and consider all the potential users of the system. Spend the time up front to review your entire business processes to ensure you are getting what you need to improve efficiency and access to records.
Think about existing hardware and if you will need complete upgrades from servers to desktops. Consider whether the application is upgradeable if you change something as simple as an operating system. What will you do with your legacy data? Will you pay to convert it or leave it in a stand-alone system like a Web-based RMS that is accessible from a desktop or dispatchers computer?
The Versadex application used with PRIME-BC is always being improved by its users, and the vendor is very open to customers submitting what are called “change order requests.” Every year, the vendor holds a Users Conference where changes are brought forward and the actual customers get to propose their changes while other users get to provide feedback.
While the rollout of this application continues in the more remote areas of British Columbia, the next phase of the PRIME-BC Project is the transition to the latest Versadex application version 7.0 known as “Genero.” This extremely interactive and user friendly version of the RMS client is a Windows-based “point and click” upgrade from previous system. Training new users will be even easier as the application’s graphic user interface (GUI) and features are very much based on how people navigate at home on their personal computers.
In BC, all of the province’s police agencies will be on the basic modules of PRIME-BC soon. Other modules, i.e., Property, Real Time Identification (RTID), Mug Shots, will be rolled out over the next two years. On top of completing the rollout, PRIME-BC will continue to be upgraded with new versions of the RMS, CAD, VMC and MWS software. PRIME-BC will also be continuing to tune and increase the capacity of the various servers throughout the province.
This wholesale change from paper-based reporting and the transition to a completely electronic system can often put fear into the minds of front-line officers. PRIME-BC has worked well throughout British Columbia as there are numerous examples to support this.
Information sharing across jurisdictional boundaries should never be put ahead of officer safety and police efficiency. The public expects professional policing without political or jurisdictional hurdles that hinder the front-line officers’ ability to put bad guys in jail and maintain a safe community. PRIME-BC and the Versadex RMS are proof that this can be done.
Brad Brewer is a sergeant with the Vancouver Police Department. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.