On-the-go technology proposed for Tompkins County police

Dispatching upgrade would give responders more information during calls


Stacey Shackford

Ithaca Journal – Online


Tompkins County police officers may soon consider their laptops as valuable as their guns when a $1.3 million high-tech upgrade arms them with instantly accessible information that could save time, money and lives.


The proposed upgrade to the county's computer-aided dispatch and records management system is the final phase of a four-pronged project started in 2003, which involved a new emergency communications center, $20 million tower network and radio system.


It would significantly improve the mobile data capabilities of every police, fire and rescue operation in the county, and members of the Tompkins County Legislature's Public Safety Committee got a glimpse at some of the system's capabilities last week.


When emergency calls are received, those dispatched are alerted to any previous activity at the address and immediately can bring up local, state and federal records about inhabitants and their known associates.


They can then switch to map mode to get directions, see an aerial photo to determine layout and possible escape routes, and even watch the GPS signal of their vehicle and those of other responders as they converge upon the scene.


Any data they enter are automatically included in report templates, which are then transferred to headquarters and available for their colleagues to see immediately.


Those reports become part of a comprehensive database that is not only easily searchable, but is regularly analyzed by the software to examine relationships between records and highlight links between people and properties — information that could be valuable to investigators.


It can also produce a multitude of statistical reports and crime maps, something that appealed to the police chiefs gathered at Wednesday's presentation, who were told it could help guide their decisions about where to concentrate patrols or manage personnel.


“This is fantastic,” said Sheriff Peter Meskill. “It's going to be a really powerful investigative, crime-fighting and time management tool for all agencies. We've been without a mobile data product for nine years in this county, and it's long overdue.”


Dave Allen, a representative of Utah-based vendor Spillman Technologies, said the system has not only increased efficiency and officer safety for the company's existing 800 customers nationwide, but has also allowed police agencies to be more proactive and save money in the long-term.


County Director of Emergency Response Lee Shurtleff said it is needed not only for its high-tech capabilities, but because the current 20-year-old CAD system has reached the end of its useful life and its vendor has ceased providing upgrades.


All future upgrades to the new system are included in its annual $150,000 maintenance fee, one of the reasons why Spillman was chosen as the preferred vendor, he said.


Cornell University is having a similar Spillman system installed, which means the agencies will be compatible and available to back each other up should one fail.


Shurtleff said $700,000 has already been set aside and an additional $150,000 of federal Homeland Security funding has been secured. The county would have to borrow $500,000, meaning about $60,000 would have to be set aside each year to service that debt. The annual $150,000 maintenance fee is comparable to what he already pays each year to operate the current system.


He will return to the committee with a formal resolution and capital purchase request next month. The matter will then have to be considered by the full legislature.