Transforming Data into Better Information for Effective Conservation Law Enforcement
When he’s asked what the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) Law Enforcement Program wanted most from its new records management and data interoperability system when it went live in 2010, Chief Bruce Bjork’s concise reply is: “good data.” That meant getting at data locked in standalone databases, as well as information previously captured on hardcopy forms—or not captured at all.
To help make this happen, WDFW needed a partner that knows data and could approach the solution from a holistic data integration perspective, rather than simply as a packaged RMS installation. CODY Systems, based in Pottstown, Penn., was the logical choice. The CODY team brought solid state-level experience in both RMS software and integrating disparate data from multiple sources via their COBRA.net platform, as well as expertise in transforming it into actionable information for public safety and regulatory enforcement. That experience and expertise has also helped WDFW eliminate reliance on standalone legacy systems and databases and reduce associated maintenance costs.
Now operational statewide for two years, the new CODY solution has delivered more complete, accurate and timely information that has made WFDW officers more effective and the agency itself more responsive. “CODY has helped make this one of our biggest successes,” Chief Bjork stated.
Bringing Information Together
The CODY RMS Anywhere (RMS) solution, coupled with a package of integrated interfaces, powered by CODY’s disparate data integration platform, delivers more complete, accurate and timely information for WDFW officers statewide. The CODY RMS Anywhere solution is comprised of two main modules: CODY Desktop™ provides the “in-house” RMS functionality needed for collecting and maintaining information previously kept in hardcopy files, while CODY Express™ provides real-time “anywhere” RMS functionality for officers in the field. The solution also facilitates the collection and sharing of information that was never available before from other agency and external data sources. That information can include photos and video, as well as text. In the CODY system, master name records on WDFW customers and contacts are linked to integrated components supporting incident reporting, citation tracking, property and evidence management, and other critical WDFW enforcement business processes. Information is entered once and sharable across the system.
One-Stop Access Makes Officers More Effective
Most users access the RMS through CODY Express, a smart client solution designed and optimized for laptop/tablet users over wireless networks (e.g. 3/4G, WiFi, etc.). CODY Express is deployed in the WDFW vehicles assigned to the agency’s 140 field-based law enforcement officers. Information is accessed through the Internet using cellular communications over a secure network.
With this new mobile solution, officers have “one-stop” access to all the information they need, rather than having to search each database separately. They can query the records database, as well as state and federal databases, for information on a person or vehicle, complete incident reports and manage records electronically and remotely in the field. The CODY system puts “data at their fingertips,” according to Chief Bjork. “It is like having a full RMS system in your mobile unit.”
Mobile users, like Detective Lenny Hahn, agree: “I love having everything in one place. You capture more information and it’s a real time saver especially in writing incident reports.” Detective Hahn points to a recent case, where using the new system “saved me about 20 hours.”
Having access to information helps the next officer interact with an individual involved in that incident and helps WDFW management better understand and communicate how the department is fulfilling its mission. “Now every incident gets an incident report in our CODY system,” said WDFW Project Manager Garret Ward. “Everything is tracked and accessible to all officers.”
“When we’re asked by another law enforcement agency ‘What do you know about this person?’ we can get them the answer right away,” Detective Hahn explained.
Phasing the Project Leads to Early Win
WDFW decided to implement the new system in phases, rather than the more common “big bang” approach in which all modules are rolled out at one time. CODY Desktop and CODY Express are the key modules included in Phase 1 of WFDW’s implementation of a comprehensive public safety system. Phasing allowed WDFW to spread the cost of the public safety system over multiple budget periods. It also delivered high-value mobile functionality to the field sooner and produced an early success that has helped build credibility, both internally and externally. Finally, the phased approach helped both the project team and users ease into learning the new system’s full capabilities.
The cornerstone Phase 2 module—CODY Dispatch™, a computer-aided dispatch (CAD) solution—was just deployed earlier this year. The dispatch product is used primarily by communications officers in the department’s new WILDCOMM dispatch center. Communications officers using CODY Dispatch are able to communicate silently and securely with officers using CODY Express and add an incident record to CODY Desktop automatically from any call. They are also able to visualize agency activity statewide with the addition of GIS mapping software on the statewide network. As part of a fully integrated public safety system, all of these modules use a common master database. Information on a person or incident, for example, can be entered once and shared everywhere, including at the point of call entry for a dispatcher, making calls faster, more efficient and more accurate.
Data Integration and Exchange Delivers More Information More Quickly
If criminal justice and licensing information was already available electronically in another system, WDFW wanted to make it available to officers directly through the mobile client, saving the time previously spent accessing a separate system or rekeying data to get that information. In some cases, this meant integrating that external information directly into CODY, and, in others, it required building a real-time interface to that system for users.
Making information available on fish and wildlife license holders from the Washington Interactive Licensing Database (WILD) required both. This WILD integration was one example of the data integration achieved by this project. Integrating information on all current license holders into the CODY master name database has proven to be one of the most valuable features of the system from an officer perspective. It immediately gives officers critical information for better decision-making, including any license suspension or revocation, based on a simple name search. Having that information directly available in the field has made them more effective in handling the more than 250,000 citizen contacts they make each year.
WILD is maintained by the state’s point of sale license purchase system vendor, which provides a periodic extract to the WDFW IT Department. Integrating this data into the new system required the expertise that CODY brought from its large-scale public-safety data integration projects like Missouri’s statewide MoDEx data exchange. Since there are more than 60 different WDFW license types, and an individual can purchase multiple licenses at different times, the CODY master name record had to be configured to handle frequent updates to a large number of fields imported from an external system. “And we don’t always have the best data to work with,” according to Garret Ward. “We did a lot of work mapping data and developing protocols for handling abnormalities. The working relationship between CODY and (WDFW) IT was invaluable in making this happen.”
Before the new system went live, CODY successfully completed the migration of demographic and license information on more than 1.5 million individuals to the CODY system master name file, handling potential duplicate person records on the fly to eliminate cluttering of the database. That information is periodically and automatically updated based on new license-related transactions in the WILD extract.
In addition to integrating specific WILD data directly into the CODY master name file, the system also includes a WILD View interface for direct access to the WILD database from CODY Express. Through WILD View an officer can verify a hunter or fisherman’s claim that he has the required license or tag, even if it’s not in his possession. This simple check helps WDFW improve customer satisfaction and provide better customer service to a legitimate license holder who now doesn’t get a written warning or citation.
This integration with WILD was just one of the many interfaces/integrations configured for WDFW across multiple systems, including an interface to the State Administrative Office of Courts (AOC).
Saving Dollars and Getting Better Information by Centralizing Data
By centralizing data, WDFW has also been able to shut down other standalone systems and databases, saving money and freeing IT resources, as well as making it easier for officers in the field to get the information they need. For example, along with its other field-RMS functions, CODY Express replaces a third-party mobile data system for querying federal and state databases for stolen vehicle reports, outstanding warrants, and other criminal justice information. Now, the officer doesn’t have to sign in to a separate system to run a name. With a single click from the person screen, the officer can quickly initiate a query.
WDFW was also able to replace its legacy activity logging system with functionality already embedded in CODY Express. Solid metrics on the number of officers and hours involved in responding to dangerous wildlife incidents, license fraud investigation and other hot button issues, for example, helps clearly demonstrate the importance of WDFW enforcement presence to the public and the agency’s stakeholders.
Even as the agency as a whole has had to absorb staffing cuts in recent years, the Enforcement Program has been able to maintain its officer staffing level. Having the right information on officer workload has been an effective tool. “I can pull the data from CODY,” Chief Bjork said, “and walk it right up the Hill (to the State Legislature). It builds credibility. The worst thing you can say to legislators is ‘I don’t know, or I don’t have that data available.’”
The Value of Partnership at Every Level
A key to the success of this project was the partner relationship that both WDFW and CODY fostered at all levels. The foundation of that relationship is listening, compromising, working together, and facing challenges with an open mind and total focus on finding the right solution. With any project of this scope, there are certain to be problems that can’t be anticipated. Finding solutions to those problems starts at the project management level, but sometimes it requires resources outside the scope of the project. That’s when the partners need to be able to work together at the executive level to find the right solution. As Project Manager, Garret Ward has provided strong and consistent leadership to the WDFW team since the beginning of the project. CODY Systems mirrored that dedication to the project.
“Even though our company is based three time zones away,” said CODY’s Barbara Falcaro, “WDFW knows that we’re all there to support them every day 24x7, even when an issue isn’t the result of our software.”
Chief Bjork also stresses the importance of the partnership. “WDFW’s partnership with CODY Systems has been a good one,” according to the Chief. “As a Conservation Law Enforcement entity, it has taken a lot of work, software customization, and enhancements to get to where we are now with our system, and there are future enhancements that we will still be considering to get to where we want to be.” Chief Bjork added: “I frequently talk to other Law Enforcement Executives about their record management systems and hear some of the horror stories that they’ve experienced with their vendors. That has not been WDFW’s experience with CODY Systems. We’ve worked collaboratively on issues, negotiated fairly on upgrades and enhancements, and built an excellent governmental/private partnership.”