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CAD Grand Prairie Police Communication Center
The Grand Prairie, TX Police Department is a medium-sized agency facing metro-sized issues and calls for service. Nearly 320,000 inbound calls for the various services dispatched by Grand Prairie’s Communication Center were place in 2005-06 alone. And as one of the fastest growing cities in the United States, it is increasingly pushed to respond to higher number of calls for service. In the past few years, fire service and EMS dispatch have been added to their duties. These additions, combined with their existing police dispatch duties, combined with recent population increases have encouraged the department to create one of the most efficient dispatch and communication centers in North Texas.
In middle of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, the Grand Prairie Police Department is surrounded by 6 million official residents, the fourth largest population in United States and the largest population center in TX. The city of Grand Prairie itself is actually located on a long and narrow strip of land roughly 25 miles north to south and in a few places less than a mile wide. Straddling parts of three counties and supporting a population of over 125,000 people, the city covers an increasingly dense area of homes and light industry about 80 square miles. Between January and December 2006, more than 34,000 traffic and pedestrian stops were recorded; 50% of those stopped were not even residents of Grand Prairie.
But things in Grand Prairie have not always been as busy as they are today. Ed Scheitle is the senior IT analyst at the Grand Prairie Police Department with 19 years of experience working with computers and communications. He recalls that the number of call for service were fewer and the systems used to handle them 19 years ago were considerably more humble than the geographic information systems (GIS), computer-assisted dispatch (CAD) and automatic vehicle location (AVL) systems in use today.
The technology in the Communication Center has certainly changed, and the technology used by the callers themselves has changed also. The most dramatic change in the past 20 years for the callers is the medium they use to contact the department—the mobile phone. Shearon Moffitt, Grand Prairie communication supervisor with 18 years of experience, has personally seen the improvement in technology and communications for the department.
At the beginning of her career with Grand Prairie’s Communication Center in 1989, only a few people had cell phones, referred to then as “bag phones.” At that time, most calls to the Communication Center were made on land lines whose location was easily determined. By the 2005, the origin of inbound calls had reversed; many people had disconnected their land lines and were instead using their cell phones to dial 9-1-1.
“Cell phones are very volatile creatures,” Shearon Moffitt. “We get a lot of phone calls from cell phones [that] are not initialized. The cell phone does not actually have service—but is capable of dialing 9-1-1.” In the circumstance where a call to the 9-1-1 has been placed but a location is not given—extra efforts are expended to find the caller’s location. “If we get a cell phone call, we know we have a disturbance, but the person wasn’t able to tell us where they were calling from, we can call the cell phone company and get additional information. It is a process to tell where someone [on an uninitialized cell phone] is. It can take seconds, it can take minutes, it can take hours to pinpoint where you are.” The added technology in the center, in the form of Internet access and other software, makes this process possible.
Software Training: CAD, RMS, GIS, EMD and More
Today, it takes more than a year to fully train a communication dispatcher to use the multiple computer and communication systems in the Grand Prairie Communication Center. Once trained, a dispatcher will serve his duty shift seated in front of a half-dozen flat-screen monitors, simultaneously control three or four mice, and access and answer numerous lines of communication to connect civilians in need of service with the right public safety worker; sometimes helping to resolve a situation before emergency personnel can even arrive on scene.
But dispatchers don’t do it alone, and it takes more than just good phone skills to successfully complete the daily tour of duty. It also takes technologies like computer-assisted dispatch (CAD), which helps put the best and closest resources in connection with the caller. In every public safety job there is a necessary mixture of technology and human intervention. Traffic stops and DWI/DUI arrest can’t be accomplished from a computer, but the official report is usually written on a laptop mounted in a squad car. Evidence must be seized and cataloged usually in a database connected to a bar code scanner. Dispatch personnel arguably maintain the closest relationship between public safety personnel and their computers.
At the heart of the Communication Center in the Grand Prairie Police Department is an integrated software communication solution from Tiburon. The company provides fully integrated command and control, information management, and analysis solutions to public safety and justice organizations throughout the United States and abroad. Established in 1980, Tiburon has nearly 30 years of experience providing automated solutions to law enforcement, fire, EMS, and corrections. Grand Prairie migrated to Tiburon in 1986 and has seen many upgrades in the software throughout the years.
The Tiburon software is truly an integrated solution, providing an interface for computer-aided dispatch (CAD), geographic information system (GIS), emergency medical dispatcher (EMD), records management software (RMS), corrections management software (CMS), mobile support services, online civilian based reporting and bar coding of property and evidence. It is also being integrated to make mug shots and other previously inaccessible agency data available to officers in the field from within their own units.
In 2003, Grand Prairie upgraded from a text-based CAD and RMS system to a visual geographic information system (GIS) software package called Maverick™ from 9-1-1 Mapping Systems. Now instead of reading from columns of text when a call comes in, communication personnel view a highly detailed GIS map displaying a matching address. When an address is confirmed, the software zooms to that location, placing a marker and a call label. Senior IT Analyst Scheitle said, “9-1-1 Mapping Systems takes the GIS files and creates the maps for the dispatchers, and it also displays their location [of available police units], the calls they’re on, and tracks them using AVL.”
Emergency Medical Dispatch
At the same time as the GIS maps were installed, Grand Prairie implemented ProQA™ EMD software. Being able to route the nearest police unit to the location of the inbound call is almost taken for granted with the assistance of computer-assisted dispatch. But the ability to send the right personnel (police, fire service, or medical) with pertinent information on the medical condition of an injured civilian is a specialized task. With the assistance of ProQA EMD software, dispatchers utilize automated tools to provide immediate patient assessment. During the course of an emergency medical call, ProQA guides dispatchers through the process of collecting the vital information from the caller, obtaining the patient’s status, choosing an appropriate dispatch level, and instructing the caller with medically approved protocols until the dispatched units arrive at the scene.
Grand Prairie’s EMDs are trained and certified by the National Academies of Emergency Dispatch to utilize state-of-the-art EMD software. But very close to every dispatcher in the Communication Center is a rather large, laminated flip chart version of the same system. The center supervisors agree that their personnel often score better during certification tests with the computer rather than the paper. While the computer version is certainly more efficient, a piece of paper never loses power during a thunderstorm and thus dispatchers are trained to use both.
Online Reporting for Civilians
One of the most recent additions to the Tiburon software and to the Grand Prairie Police Department as a whole is the implementation of the Desk Officer Reporting System (DORS) by Coplogic. DORS is an online “citizen-to-police” reporting system designed to document incidents, collect valuable data and reduce the costs associated with officers taking reports.
According to Scheitle, “We are trying to make the department more efficient, working with the citizens, instead of them having to coming to us they, can do things online. The citizens can a file a report online, we review it, and once we accept the reports, it automatically uploads them to the Tiburon system. It saves clerks time having to enter the report, it saves officer’s time not having to take the report.” A final point about this implementation is the increase in the quality of the data gathered from reports taken in this manner. Instead of an officer filing a report based on what he learned from a field interview, the actual complainant creates the report using a simple interface reducing a level of separation from the source to report.
An evidence and property bar coding system is also a component of Grand Prairie’s Tiburon system. The system allows the department to do complete and instant inventory of everything in the property room, which has reduced the number of lost property claims.
While the deployment of technology clearly can support the operation of a growing communication center, the deployment of any technology for the sake of having something new or the deployment of components that simply don’t work with one another is a recipe for frustration, if not disaster. To avoid these common mistakes, specific measures have been taken to ensure compatibility and compliance of individual software packages before the purchase and installation. “We try to integrate everything we purchase in Grand Prairie as an integrated tool where the users just have to pull up one application to get to all the other information.”
An example of this theory put into practice is the upcoming deployment of the Grand Prairie’s mug shot system, which will also be integrated into the Tiburon software. Booking photos are historically the domain of the jail and a jail computer or system. But with a system-wide commitment to making the right information available to the right people at the right time, booking photographs will be accessible at various points along the system. Scheitle said, “If an officer pulls up a jail record or an incident report and we have a photo of that person on file, he can display that photo too. They don’t have to go to two separate systems.”
A final example of the application of the Tiburon system is the deployment of mobile units. Many agencies find themselves in the middle ground when it comes to the deployment of mobile technology. Some smaller, well-heeled departments have robust integrated video systems that allow real-time video from units in the field to be shared with a command center, a few can even share between the units themselves. Agencies on the other end of the spectrum still rely primarily on radio communication to access state and federal databases like NCIS.
Through their mobile units, Grand Prairie Officers can do nearly everything in the field that they can do in their offices. In stark contrast to the citizen’s online reporting program, which could be argued reduces officer contact with the citizenry, the ability to complete office tasks in the field with the deployment of good mobile systems makes personnel more productive, keeps them readily available for dispatch, and increases their effectiveness as a criminal deterrent.
On the effectiveness of the new systems in the field, Scheitle said, “They can pull up their reports in the field. They can do their reports in the field. They can look at mug shot pictures in the field. Almost anything they can do in the office they can do out there now. We keep them on the street a little longer.”
With the recent growth and development experienced in Grand Prairie and the greater Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, patrol and traffic officers are pressed to keep pace with the all of the new housing additions and street names. With the integration of the GIS and mapping into their mobile units, they can now pull up maps to their calls for service including directions and road closings and traffic.
The New Facility
After 35 years in a building that was developed for a department consisting of 60 employees and a much smaller civilian populace, the city of Grand Prairie is in the process of building a new facility. The new facility will be a public safety building housing the communication and command offices for both police and fire services. With the new facility comes a new communication center, which will once again be upgraded to newer servers running newer versions of Grand Prairie’s current CAD/RMS software and related applications.
By many standards, the Grand Prairie Police Department could be considered a small agency, yet it faces many of the same issues and calls for service of a large metropolitan department. Undoubtedly, the number of calls for service will continue to increase, and with those calls will likely come additional duties for the Communication Center such as online services and other support demands. But the city and agency administration officials have shown a clear commitment to invest in the appropriate technologies and, more important, they have shown an obvious dedication to their communication personnel.
Thomas M. Manson is the owner of Police Technical LLC and the technology editor for LAW and ORDER magazine. He speaks nationally on technology and law enforcement. He can be reached at tmanson@ policetechnical.com.
Published in Law and Order, Apr 2008
Rating : 9.9
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