A burglar decides he’s going to hit a Philomath house — he targets the work for the early morning hours on a Monday.
He packs his vehicle with the necessary tools, such as a crowbar to pry open a back door, his preferred method of entry. Once in, he plans to focus on electronics, such as cellphones, tablets and computers.
Last month, he had burglarized a residence over in Albany. And a few weeks before that, he hit a home on the outskirts of Corvallis.
In the past, law-enforcement agencies went about their investigations with a certain degree of tunnel vision. Neighboring departments had challenges communicating on such matters and if a connection existed, they might not be so apparent.
But now, a high-tech public safety communications system allows Benton and Linn county law-enforcement officials to connect the dots. In fact, they can run a report asking for any residential burglaries done during the wee hours early in the week with a particular break-in tool with high-end electronics stolen.
The results of such a case comparison search could lead police to zero in on a particular suspect. In fact, the system will even spit out a map of those common cases with links to all of the reports that had been written, even body camera video, photographs and whatever else an investigation yields. And patrol officers can do the work; it doesn’t necessarily have to fall on a detective or administrator.
“It’s very powerful,” Philomath Chief of Police Ken Rueben said last week. “Right now to do that, it would take you a week to even get to that information and then you’re just hoping the other agencies have the data.”
What’s this new way of putting together a case? It’s a $1.3 million computer-aided dispatch system implemented last year in Linn County. The Philomath Police Department got wired in at a cost of about $35,000 and it allows several public safety agencies to share data in real time while creating a seamless approach to their work.
In terms of the cost, Rueben said the $35,000 investment included the physical installation of fiber-optic cable to connect Philomath with the servers in Linn County but also the monthly system charges.
“It’s a number of software modules that work together to allow police departments manage all their records-management needs all in one place — which includes not just report writing but evidence handling, storage of documents, interaction with dispatch and also send data and reports to the district attorney’s office,” Reuben explained.
Rueben said the annual cost of using the system runs $5,863 for Philomath compared to $45,249 for the Corvallis Police Department and $34,784 for the Benton County Sheriff’s Office. The costs are for things like software, data conversion fees, instructor-led training and project management services.
The new program was purchased through Superion Inc., a company based in Lake Mary, Florida.
Participating agencies are all part of the Willamette Valley Operations Consortium. On the east side of the river, participants include the Linn County Sheriff’s Office, Albany Police Department and several fire districts. On the west side, those on the system include the Philomath Police Department, Benton County Sheriff’s Office, Corvallis Police Department, Corvallis Regional Communications Center and regional fire districts.
Rueben said the Linn County Sheriff’s Office and Albany Police Department approached Philomath around 18 months ago to join the system.
“Now, it’s all stored in one place and we can cross-reference each other’s report numbers in one system,” Rueben said about Superion, which went live in Philomath May 14. “It can show me a list of everything generated on a case; you dump it onto a thumb drive or email it in one package to the district attorney’s office.”
In the past, DA’s have received information in single-event, multi-agency cases piecemeal.
The agencies can work together effectively on investigations with a system that tracks progress and easily allows for follow-up. Rueben said that’s a huge part of Superion — making the mechanics of an investigation that much easier.
The technology now allows Philomath to be hooked up with the dispatch center electronically, Rueben said, even right inside a police vehicle. In the past, those interactions could only occur through the radio.
One of the most attractive components involves less time officers need to spend on writing reports.
“Just looking at the numbers, between 50 and 60 percent of the calls for service that we would typically write a report on in our last system, we will not have to write a full police report now on the new system,” Rueben said. “Report writing — it’s a huge endeavor. I think citizens would be alarmed at how much time it takes.”
Besides the fiber-optic cable, Philomath’s upgrades included a better security system that features duel-entry authentication for access and laptops in police vehicles with enhanced antennas to provide a strong connection to dispatch.
In the end, it’s all about safety — not only for the public but for the officers. Dispatch has access to a live mapping system, for example, that shows where a police officer is located.
Take a situation where a police officer is involved in a tense scenario while making a traffic stop. Perhaps there is a warrant out on the driver or it’s at the end of a short pursuit of a car that had started to run.
“Your first priority is always supposed to be to get on the radio and tell everybody else where you are,” Rueben said. “This new system allows you to hit a button in the car on the screen that tells dispatch ‘I’m out on a stop.’ So even if there’s an emergency, dispatch knows that officer has stopped a car and is at a particular location on the map.”
Rueben also loves the system’s capabilities with generating statistics. Another high-tech feature allows officers to print labels and barcodes in the field while seizing evidence. Or, they can type in a license plate number and an immediate Department of Motor Vehicles check is done inside the system, even writing and printing out electronic traffic tickets in the officer’s car.
Rueben said there are some bugs to work out, not uncommon when a new system rolls out. In a nutshell, the various agencies are working on standardizing certain things, such as report coding and evidence documentation.