Our blog features thoughts on a wide range of business topics with a specific focus on helping our current and
future customers achieve success. Here you'll also find posts about emerging technologies and other perspectives
from select employees. The opinions of the writers do not necessarily reflect the position of Spillman Technologies
on these subjects.
If you work for an agency that uses Spillman products, the chances are that you have used some of the materials created by the Spillman Documentation department. The folks in Documentation face the challenge of taking complex software information and presenting it in a clear way for all types of users. We thought it would be fun to use this month’s Spillman Spotlight blog to profile Katie Armstrong, who is one of our fabulous technical writers. She talks about being a grammar nerd, how much of her day is actually spent writing, and a “burger of the month” club. Where do we sign up for that last one?
What is a technical writer responsible for at Spillman? What types of things does the Documentation department produce?
Katie: We write all of the official manuals for each of our products, along with quick cards, user tips, and eLearning tutorials.
What do you like most about your job?
Katie: I like the challenge of taking a lot of difficult information and figuring out the best way to structure it and write about it so that it is clear and hopefully easy for our customers to understand.
What is the hardest part of your job?
Katie: The hardest part is that I’m not a developer, and I don’t have first-hand experience using our products. I have to rely a lot on the expertise of every department at Spillman, and then I also have to try and put myself in the customers’ shoes and determine what information they need.
Is there anything our readers might find surprising about your job?
Katie: People always think we know all the grammar rules (and we do), but we also know that grammar has a lot to do with context, so there’s not always a clear-cut answer and we sometimes debate the best approach to take. Yep, we’re word nerds, but I guess that’s probably not surprising.
What does a regular work day look like for you?
Katie: My day usually begins by meeting with different development teams as part of their morning standup. I find out what they’re working on and report back about what I’m writing. It also gives me a chance to ask questions about the software. I sometimes sit in on conference calls with customers who are providing us with feedback on new products they are testing, and I also attend other planning meetings. You might be surprised that I typically spend only about one-third of my time actually writing. The rest is spent researching, talking to experts, and updating our existing documentation, with a few Diet Coke breaks sprinkled in.
What does the documentation department do for fun?
Katie: We used to have a Burger of the Month club where we visited different restaurants in the area and rated their burgers based on several important factors (meat, buns, lettuce, and fries), but we recently lost our hamburger connoisseur to the R&D department. Now we’re trying to decide if we want to become the Burrito of the Month club or the Barbecue of the Month club. Both sound so appealing!
A big thanks to Katie for taking a moment to answer our questions!
May is an exceptionally busy month for open houses. Attending an open house is a perfect way to see an overview of Spillman’s public safety software solutions. We would love to see you at one of these upcoming events!
May 21-22, 2013
Spillman Attendees: Kim Larson and Andy Doyle
Osceola County Sheriff’s Office Open House:
May 15, 2013
Click here to register
Slidell Police Department Open House
May 16, 2013
Click here to register
Law enforcement agencies are using social media sites more than ever before. Many agencies use Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to communicate with the public. Increasingly, however, agencies are using social media to aid in investigations. This can be a great tool, but it comes with some controversy and can even leave agencies vulnerable to legal issues.
The information that individuals post — both public and in some cases, private— is being used by a growing number of law enforcement agencies on local, state, and federal levels for investigations and prosecutions. A 2012 survey shows that 80 percent of law enforcement respondents used social media in investigations and 83 percent of those intend to use it more in the future. Of those not currently using social media, 74 percent of polled individuals planned to start. The survey also found that Facebook and YouTube were used most often by law enforcement to identify people and locations as well as discover criminal activity.
Much success has come out of agencies using social media to catch criminals. A recent CNN article points to a number of instances, including the 2008 case of Ronnie Tienda Jr., who was prosecuted primarily on words and photos he posted on his social media accounts. But as the article points out, an agency’s use of social media in investigations sometimes isn’t as easy as searching for a name on Facebook since users can set their accounts as “private.”
The danger for public safety agencies extends beyond just what information is found on social media while investigating suspects—it can also move into the personal profiles of law enforcement personnel. A New York Times article discusses how an officer’s Facebook status update the day before a trial gave the defense an edge in court. The defense was able to use the officer’s status update indicating that his mood was “devious,” along with some other examples of his online activities, to argue that the officer tried to cover up his use of excessive force.
In order to address controversial practices, a public safety agency should have a social media policy in place, and the IACP Center for Social Media found that fewer than half of agencies from a 2012 survey actually do. Resources like the IACP Center offer a lot of information agencies can use to set up and understand social media policies. Another resource is ConnectedCops.Net, a site that aims to provide information and education on social media use for public safety agencies. Furthermore, a useful FBI Bulletin on social media points out some things agencies should think about when dealing with these policies, including necessary precautions on agency employee accounts.
As the evolution of social media continues—and along with it, the laws that govern social media’s use—public safety agencies will need to stay flexible and informed if they want to use it to aid investigations and enhance service to the public.
April is an exceptionally busy month for us with many tradeshows and an open house. Attending an open house is a perfect way to see an overview of Spillman’s public safety software solutions. We would love to see you at one of these upcoming events!
April 3, 2013
Spillman Attendees: Chelsea Nelson and Cam Housley
Spillman Attendees: Kim Larson and Russ Andrus
Drury Inn, Wichita, KS
Spillman Attendees: Anthony Dorsey
Spillman Attendees: Kim Larson, Chelsea Nelson. Steve Angell, Eric Smith, Todd Jorgensen, Anthony Dorsey, and Cam Housley
Kennesaw Police Department Open House:
April 24, 2013
Click here to register
In this month’s Spillman Spotlight, we thought it would be fun to show off how diverse our customer agencies are by profiling our northernmost and southernmost customers. Located about 4,500 miles apart, these two Spillman customers face completely different sets of challenges, but agree on one thing — Spillman helps them get the information they need.
Agency Name: Kenai (KEE-nie) Police Department, Alaska
Spillman customer since: 1998
Population served: 7,100
Sworn officers: 19
Civilian employees: 9
Agency Name: Brownsville City Police Department, Texas
Spillman customer since: 2004
Population served: 150,000
Sworn officers: 218
Civilian employees: 108
What makes your city unique?
Mike Nusbaum, Dispatch Supervisor, Kenai Police Department: We’re right on the ocean and it keeps our temps mild year round. There are mountains all around and of course, Alaska is famous for its wildlife. This area has the best salmon fishing anywhere and people come from all over the world to fish in the summer time. Kenai goes from a small town to major tourist area once the salmon come in.
Paul Cantu, System Administrator, Brownsville Police Department: There is a lot of citrus grown here. Almost every backyard has a lemon tree. People do a lot of farming around here, cotton, vegetables, and all sorts of things.
What kinds of public safety issues do you encounter?
Mike Nusbaum: Alaska is very active for earthquakes. There is an active volcano right across the inlet from us. Mount Redoubt is 50 miles to the west and in 2009 it erupted. Weather and wildlife are always present and something we deal with year round. Of course we also have the same problems as any agency with crime, drugs and other challenges that go along with any city.
Paul Cantu: Probably our biggest thing is being on the border [to Mexico]. We have a lot of law enforcement because of the drug cartels that move through and affect life here. We also have a lot of winter tourists that come down here with their RVs—we call them winter ‘Texans.’ March is probably one of the busiest times because of spring break. And, Brownsville is right on a hurricane track and they can hit very close. Because we are on the water, even if a hurricane hits 100 miles away we’ll still experience a lot of wind and water.
What is your favorite feature of the Spillman system?
Mike Nusbaum: My personal favorite [feature] is how the modules link together so I can see everything I need. I can pull up a law record and see all of the tickets someone has or if they have any warnings. That way, we don’t have someone getting the same warning for a tail light being out over and over.
Paul Cantu: I’ve always said the biggest thing is the data retrieval; everything we put in can get back really quickly. Everything is tied to the tables, and that’s what led me to Spillman.
We would like to thank Mike Nusbaum from the Kenai Police Department in Alaska and Paul Cantu from the Brownsville City Police Department in Texas for their help with this feature! Stay tuned for a future Spillman Spotlight featuring our westernmost and easternmost customers!
Accurate, detailed map information is a critical component for public safety agencies and dispatch centers. The difference between a correct map and one with even a few errors can mean life or death for someone calling for urgent medical help. If a responder can’t find the location quickly, he or she may be too late to save someone in need.
This is one of the reasons Cattyann Campbell, GIS Project Leader of the Tompkins County Information Technology Services’ GIS Division, is so dedicated to her job.
“If you are a GIS person, public safety data is one of the best applications you can work on,” said Campbell. “It is rewarding to know that you can help save someone’s life.”
In an effort to help her agency respond faster to emergencies, Campbell has been participating in New York’s Street Address Mapping (SAM) project. This project is designed to improve the accuracy of address mapping throughout the state and bring state data into compliance with standards set by the National Emergency Number Association (NENA).
As part of the SAM project, Campbell has been optimizing agency maps for next generation 9-1-1, or NG9-1-1. A database optimized for NG9-1-1 enables an agency to see where calls are coming from, known as reverse geocoding. This can help emergency responders find the exact location of calls for help. But, as Campbell learned, having accurate maps requires clear data entry standards.
“One of the things we wanted to do was clean our data,” said Campbell. “But [the GIS Division] started discovering some stuff in CAD, like street names being inconsistent. We found misspellings, bad road ranges, and mixing different addresses on the same side of the street. Different municipalities used the same street names and their data was inconsistent.”
The opportunity to standardize data entry and fix these problems was right in front of them, but it led them to consider how other counties were addressing the same problems. It soon became clear that the neighboring counties in New York had to work together to develop some best practices. This was especially important because responders from Tompkins County were often dispatched across county lines. Incompatible data would only serve to confuse things—and even worse, threaten lives.
The discussion at the county level also got the counties to consider taking the data even further, advocating for a deeper well of information to help emergency responders in their jobs. One example is offering 3-D, floor plan-style address point placement) with orthophotographic, and bird’s-eye images on maps to help responders get to the correct apartment more easily.
An image New York state is using to discuss the idea of floorplan-style point placement to provide responders with bird’s-eye images of locations. For example, in the photo above, the points would appear stacked, indicating the location of apartments on each floor.
New York’s SAM program has distinguished the state as a leader in developing GIS data. Tompkins County and the neighboring counties are on their way to developing a clean and reliable database of address information that is NG9-1-1 compliant. Although creating an accurate and detailed library of GIS info is an ongoing process, Campbell believes that it will help public safety personnel respond to emergencies more efficiently.
Campbell says that she hopes that people reading this might get other agencies enthusiastic about having their jurisdiction’s data clean and conforming to NG9-1-1 standards.
“I hope it gets some other states thinking about some of these issues,” Campbell said.
In this month’s Spillman Spotlight, we’d like to introduce you to another one of our customers. The Osceola County Sheriff’s Office covers Osceola County, which is located in central Florida and is home to popular tourist destination cities Kissimmee and St. Cloud. Last month, a quick-thinking dispatcher at the agency used the Spillman system to help apprehend a robber as the criminal returned home from committing a crime.
Agency Name: Osceola County Sheriff’s Office
Spillman customer since: 1994
Population served: 276,000
Sworn officers: 384
Civilian employees: 300
“How fast can you solve a robbery?”
That’s the question Lt. Mike Fisher of the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office posed when we talked to him about the details of this recent case. The answer, for Lt. Fisher at least, is very quickly—if you have the right tools.
On Jan. 10, deputies from the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office responded to a robbery alarm at a 7-Eleven convenience store in Poinciana, Fla. According to the clerk, a man stole a carton of cigarettes from the store. Fortunately, the clerk had gotten a look at the perpetrator’s car and had written down part of his license plate number, which Osceola County Communications Officer C. Chrisolm searched for in the agency’s Spillman system.
The Spillman system returned a record for a vehicle matching the description and partial tag, and that record had an associated name and address. Deputies dispatched to that address observed a vehicle with a driver that matched the suspect’s description. The man was arrested without incident at his residence and confessed during the interview.
Fisher said this incident is remarkable because of how quickly the office was able to close the case, thanks to easy access to data in the Spillman system.
“Spillman certainly helped our research process,” said Fisher. “There’s no way they would have been able to find that information without the system. Within minutes of searching, we had established a suspect.”
Fisher says that he’s used other records management databases but they are not as easy to use compared to Spillman’s single, integrated database.
“I’ve seen other agencies that have to open up different databases for different records instead of one general database that has everything,” said Fisher. “The [ability to see connections between data] is a big advantage for Spillman. Our investigations rely heavily on Spillman and the time it saves us.”
Yes, anyone can receive a grant, but you need to follow the rules and regulations and be eligible. The majority of grants are issued to non-profits such as colleges and universities, public schools, medical and research centers, and youth groups. You will always need to provide your 501 (c)(3) certificate or documentation that tells the grantors as well as the IRS that you are a legitimate non-profit organization.
You will have a very difficult time receiving a grant if you are an individual. However, when you are pursuing writing, music, or fine arts you may be the recipient of a small grant. There are absolutely no government grants for paying your mortgage, debts, or living expenses.
Receiving a federal grant for a law enforcement, criminal justice, or first responder agency requires you to follow all the outlines, be eligible, and write a grant to the best of your ability. There are times when your agency or community must be on a government list in order to even apply for a federally sponsored grant. Do not despair, however, because government agencies will fund your request if you are eligible, good at writing grants, and follow all rules and procedures. Make sure you know the parameters that are required and write your grant in a way that includes who, what, when, why and where. Contact a grant specialist if you need more help.
Stopping by our booth in Georgia will give you a way to see an overview of Spillman’s public safety software solutions. We would love to see you at this upcoming event!
February 11-12, 2013
Spillman Attendees: Chelsea Nelson and Eric Smith
Classic Center, Athens, GA
As we’ve previously discussed on the Spillman blog, intelligence-led policing is an increasingly popular management principle among law enforcement agencies around the world for analyzing crime, improving quality of life, and better managing resources. Agencies implementing intelligence-led policing principles analyze statistical data to determine where crimes and traffic accidents occur, what types of crime are increasing and decreasing, and where community nuisances like vandalism and noise complaints commonly occur. Agencies can then use that data to shape agency policy and determine where to focus personnel and other crime-fighting resources.
The act of analyzing data may sound like a simple way to start fighting crime, but it can pose a challenge for many agencies. Although they may already be collecting public safety data, agencies may not have the resources or personnel to extract it on a regular basis or in a way that offers meaning.
This can be a real problem for agencies, said Rich Hendricks, former Logan, Utah police chief and current owner of Command Solutions, a Spillman partner specializing in intelligence-led policing software.
“If agencies aren’t pulling information out of their RMS (records management system), they are only using approximately 60 to 70 percent of their system,” Hendricks said.
However, even if agencies can access their jurisdictional data, it may not be useful to them because analyzing the results can be time-consuming. Most small to medium-sized agencies do not have the resources to employ dedicated analysts. For this reason, many agencies are turning to products that do the leg work for them, identifying trends and patterns in jurisdictional data and then presenting that information in an easy-to-understand format. One such product is an analytics dashboard. Much like how a dashboard on a car shows drivers important information on speed, fuel, and warning lights, an analytics dashboard displays relevant and timely information an agency can use to react quickly to changing trends in crime.
For example, Spillman offers the CompStat Dashboard module for agencies that want to see what is happening in their jurisdiction at a glance.
The main dashboard summarizes all relevant agency data, including graphs indicating trends in crime, quality of life factors, traffic information, and more. Users can easily “point and click” to drill down into specific information they need, such as which personnel are making the arrests and writing citations, where traffic accidents are occurring most often, and what neighborhoods are being targeted with specific crimes. Integration with Google Earth™ maps can show users a heat map of the resulting data, such as where graffiti has been reported in the last two weeks or where homicides are occurring.
Intelligence-led policing enables agencies to be proactive when creating strategy for their jurisdiction and enables them to get the most out of their RMS. Analytics dashboards can play an important role in helping agencies access the information they need to conduct intelligence-led policing measures, allowing them to better serve their communities.