Stimulus helps buy cop car computers

Published 9:06 am Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Niles Daily Star

CASSOPOLIS – Mobile computers the Cass County Sheriff’s Office is in the process of obtaining with the help of federal stimulus money should ease information delays which crop up with only two E911 Central Dispatch personnel and create new efficiencies, too.

Two dispatchers take in everything, whether it’s a 911 call, fire call, ambulance call, so things get delayed at times,” Capt. Lyndon Parrish explained to the Board of Commissioners last week.

“Another thing, taking crash information right now, it’s handwritten on a paper form, as they have forever.”

He and county Information Systems Director Kerry Collins set out in October 2008 to see how these delays could be dissolved.
A team put together to analyze costs met with Sheriff Joseph M. Underwood Jr. and County Administrator Terry L. Proctor on Jan. 22.
March 28 the sheriff was notified of the grant application submitted May 15 for what is officially known as the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) FY 09 Recovery Act Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program Local Solicitation.

The mobile computing project is proposed for a period Oct. 1, 2009-March 1, 2010.

Each traffic stop ties an officer up for 15 to 20 minutes, according to Parrish, who oversees the road patrol.
Information compiled in paper reports also takes longer to arrive at Fourth District Court as a page torn off a triplicate form. Then data has to be entered into the computer system.

“It’s time-consuming, slow” and a potential source of typographical errors, Parrish said.
The county also has issues with radio signals, which are stronger in some locales than others.

“Any time we’re doing paperwork,” Parrish stressed, “it means we’re not patrolling” – especially if a deputy must return to the jail complex to fill it out.

“The more patrolling, the more cops out there, the better. I think we all know with what’s going on, there are less law enforcement officers in Michigan than since the ’60s, with 100 state troopers just laid off. We want the officers we have out of the office. This is a way we can do that – they can do reports in the car.”

Another issue is confirming identities of people who are stopped who lack a driver’s license.

Communicating with surrounding agencies is another puzzle piece.

“Right now our only communication with surrounding agencies is through Central Dispatch,” Parrish said.

“At various different frequencies. St. Joseph County is UHF. We’re VHF. Berrien and Van Buren counties are 800 megahertz. We can’t talk.”
Parrish said Cass County visited a few agencies with “to try to find out what they did right and what they would redo on a project like this. We developed a project plan with a projected cost on the high end of $47,170. That is to get a backbone into place to do some of this. In June we applied for $17,957 from the Byrne justice assistance grant.”

The balance of $29,215 needs to be paid by the applicant from non-general fund dollars. The solution, Parrish said, is to start with five of the 20 cars and equip them with laptops and Automated Vehicle Locating (AVL, or “basically a GPS on top of the car.”)
Other features Cass County is looking at would allow officers to access jail records and state and national databases from their squad cars.

“Each officer is going to be able to look up their own driver and vehicle information, issue electronic tickets and crash reports” since there is a printer in the armrest.

“The bar code on the back of your license, you swipe that through a reader and it repopulates the form. Look at the time you’ve saved and there are no typos,” Parrish said.

“The system we’re looking at will allow us to actually ‘talk’ to officers in other counties” via instant messaging.

The system reduces congestion because citizens can pay tickets and download reports online.
Parrish said the laptops are “semi-ruggedized – they’re supposedly coffee-proof.

I just want them so they can sit in the car and take the transfer between heat and cold and hold up to most wear and tear.”
Parrish said the Edwardsburg-Ontwa Township Police Department has already embarked on such a system except for the AVL.

The system would not make it easier to confer with nearby Indiana officials, however, he advised Vice Chairman Ron Francis, R-Cassopolis.