Crimefighting gets a new tool

New software enhances crime mapping, analysis

Written by Eric Litke

The officers and uniforms are the same, but Sheboygan County law enforcement got a behind-the-scenes makeover this month officials say launches a new technological era in local crimefighting.

Every police agency in the county went live May 9 with Spillman, a software package that overhauls 911 dispatch, report management and — most importantly — search capabilities and crime mapping. It replaces software that some agencies have used since the mid-1980s.

“It's a world changer. It's a (major) shift in how we can analyze our data to better provide services to this county. You can't emphasize that enough how it's going to change,” said Inspector Bill Bruckbauer of the Sheboygan County Sheriff's Department. “The more we learn the system the more we're going to figure out additional ways it's going to benefit us. There's so much there, it's like a kid in a candy store.”

Spillman is now in use at the Sheriff's Department and police departments in Sheboygan, Sheboygan Falls, Plymouth, Kohler and Elkhart Lake, as well as the Sheboygan Fire Department. The software, the result of a three-year research and selection process, cost $1.4 million.

The comprehensive software package includes modules for police and fire dispatch, records management, squad car computers, jail management and civil processing, as well as internal needs such as personnel, equipment inventory and evidence. It replaces an array of disparate software that officials say was cumbersome to use and difficult to search.

Spillman also connects with the Traffic and Criminal Software system that many local agencies started using earlier this year. TraCS allows officers to electronically issue tickets and write accident reports from their squad cars.

The first few weeks haven't been problem-free — the police scanner regularly crackles with officers seeking help using or troubleshooting the system — but officials say the start-up snafus were expected.

“Like with any system there's always a learning process and a learning curve, but I do like the system,” said Sheboygan Falls Police Chief Steve Riffel. “The Paragon system we were using was fine, but it was nowhere near the capabilities this new system has.”

The change is perhaps most evident at the Sheboygan Police Department, which had been using its previous system — from Paragon Software International — since 1986. The Sheriff's Department had been using the Paragon system since 2000.

For the first time Sheboygan police are now able to track the location of squad cars, enabling dispatchers to know which officers are nearby when an emergency is reported. Before this month, dispatchers had to radio the cars to get that information.

But Capt. Steve Cobb said police are most excited about the mapping ability, which allows the department to more fully adopt Chief Chris Domagalski's focus on data-based policing. The old system allowed only a “rudimentary attempt at crime mapping,” requiring police to extract a list of incidents to a spreadsheet and then create a map using free third-party software.

Spillman generates those maps automatically, customizable by time period and type of call and updated instantly. Cobb demonstrated by pulling up a map of all police contacts so far that morning.

“We can really focus our cops on areas where crimes are occurring,” Cobb said. “We recognize trends a lot quicker.”

The Sheriff's Department has been able to track squad car locations for several years, but officials there are excited about using the mapping to re-examine the department's five patrol areas. The current lines were drawn decades ago by splitting the county into fourths using state highways 32 and 57, then notching out a fifth district around the City of Sheboygan.

“It's not based off of necessarily workload, because we didn't have a good way to track that,” said Bruckbauer.

Spillman also allows police to use find information the rest of the world has for years — by “Googling” it. The system doesn't use the search engine giant's technology, but it is able to search any data in any Spillman module with a simple query.

“I think we're still all struggling at this point to still learn the system, but one of the biggest things we've seen … is the ability to immediately get information out,” said Sheriff's Capt. Julia Nash. “There is basically no part of this system that you cannot perform a search on, and that was something that was very lacking in the old system.”

Added Bruckbauer: “If you think of black-and-white television is what the search capabilities were with the old system, to digital flat-screen now. … It was light years improvement.”

Police can also search a name statewide, so any contacts that person had with another state agency using Spillman will show up. Before, this would have required placing calls to each individual agency.

“With the interstate being through this community and the way people travel … we may find that Dane County or Green Lake County or Oconto County has valuable information on this person that we now have stopped on the interstate that we never would have had access to before,” Nash said.

Spillman also integrates with fire department software, automatically dispatching the closest unit using the same mapping technology as police calls.

“In the past the dispatchers would dispatch a structure fire at a given address, and the fire units would look at where that is and who should go to it, and now the software does that,” said acting Shift Commander Vernon Koch.

Nash said the Sheriff's Department — which serves as the county's primary dispatch center — hopes to see the county's 20-plus other fire departments and ambulances services switch to Spillman as well. Those agencies would have to pay to install the Spillman system.

The $1.4 million startup cost was borne primarily by Sheboygan County, though the City of Sheboygan pitched in $250,000, said Bruckbauer. The county agencies have also signed a maintenance agreement with Spillman for $112,000 per year, a cost that will be shared by all the agencies that use the system.