GPS to boost police efficiency, York says

Holly Abrams
The Journal Gazette

Big Brother is watching.

This will be the case when Fort Wayne police adopt an automated vehicle location system in the coming months. It will allow police dispatchers to track the location of each police cruiser at all times.

A product from the city's police software company, the Spillman AVL Mapping module not only keeps track of officers through GPS, it also allows police to use digital mapping, Chief Rusty York said.

It's something that we have looked at for quite a while,” he said.

Although Fort Wayne police will be the first department in northeast Indiana to use the system, not everyone is sold on the idea.

York said he hopes the AVL system, also known as automated vehicle location, will be running in all 318 marked police cruisers in two to three months. An electronic county mapping system must be completed first, he said.

If you don't have an accurate map, you don't have an accurate system,” he said.

The mapping module component will allow officers to retrieve more crime data through a digital mapping system. An officer enters a time parameter, definition of the crime and area, and the system will generate a map, York said.

The whole system, including software, computers and the GPS units, cost the department nearly $527,000. The money came from a combination of grants, drug seizure money and the city's lease funds. Lease funds include money for the operation of the cruisers and equipment.

The system enhances officer safety, providing more accurate information on officers' locations, York said.
Police dispatchers now only vaguely know an officer's location depending on where the officer last took a call, or whether the officer calls dispatchers.

Dispatch and other vehicles would be able to see where they are at all times,” York said. It makes the police department more efficient.”

Shane Hopkins, president of the Fort Wayne Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, questioned how the department's money is being used. Officers were told this year they would not get a yearly raise because of funding, Hopkins said.

If you don't have money for other things, why do we have money for a GPS?” he asked. Is it worth the money?”

York says it is.

The system is also a management tool, helping better coordinate where officers should be during emergency situations, he said.

Right now, dispatch operators are blind,” York said. This way, they will know up to the second where their resources are.”

In cases when further directions might be needed, such as out-of-jurisdiction pursuits, the GPS will allow those officers to map the most direct route of where they are and where they are going.

Allen County Sheriff Ken Fries said he has looked at the AVL system but sees it as too costly.

The issue that we have is the expense of doing it,” he said. I am certainly interested in the technology, but the county is not ready to spend the money on the system.”

Some Fort Wayne officers have questioned why the system will be installed in police cruisers, not on the officer's equipment.

Very few investigations are conducted from the vehicle,” Hopkins said.

An officer might run 20 blocks from his police cruiser during a foot pursuit.

York said the department's current technology will not allow the system to be installed on the officers' hand-held radios. The radios, which were bought in 1999, are an older system and will have to be replaced by 2012 to keep the technology up to date. That alone is expected to cost $17 million to $18 million, York said.

Right now we just want to know where the car is at,” he said.

Nationwide, 159 policing agencies use the AVL system supplied by Spillman Technologies, said Carrie Brown, a company spokesperson. There are 10 Indiana agencies.

Spillman Technologies is not the only company offering GPS mapping for police. Its product has been on the market since June 2000, she said.

Fries would like to see a system that uses the officers' radios instead of the cars.

I am much more interested in locating the officer than a piece of equipment,” Fries said. What good does that do me as an officer that is fighting someone that needs help?”

When the radio system is updated he might review the situation, Fries said.

It's really not new technology, but it's kind of new in the police world,” he said.

The AVL system also has add-ons that allow different actions performed by an officer to be monitored, such as the speed they are driving, how often they brake and whether their car doors are open. York said these tools are not expected to be used immediately.

Used elsewhere
Other Indiana agencies using similar systems to track vehicles:
Cedar Lake Police Department
Dyer Police Department
East Chicago Police Department
Lake County Sheriff's Office
Lowell Police Department
Munster Police Department
Northwest Commuter Transit District
Schererville Police Department
St. John Police Department

Coming Sunday
•A look at how police technology has changed in the last three decades