Kings County Sheriff’s Office wants to bring its computers into 21st century

HANFORD  Sheriff Dave Robinson is ready for a change. 

Take one look at his computer and it’s easy to see why. In an era of tablets and smart phones, the Sheriff’s Office system doesn’t even run on Windows. 

Instead, deputies use a cumbersome text-based interface that wouldn’t look out of place on a PC circa 1985. 

“We’ve been using the same system as long as I’ve been with the agency,” Robinson admits. “The employees have really struggled with it.”

His solution: Spillman Technologies, Inc., a Utah-based outfit that builds operating systems for law enforcement. 

For $10,000 a year more than they’re paying now, Robinson estimates they can upgrade to a 21st century solution. 

“All we need is the software and some training,” Robinson said. “The hardware is already there. Compared to what we’re already spending in computer maintenance, it’s almost a wash.” 

The Kings County Board of Supervisors is set to vote on Tuesday whether or not to go with the Spillman system. 

Bad memories

But this isn’t the first time the county’s considered making a switch. 

In 2008, then-Sheriff Chris Jordan proposed moving to a product designed by SMART Public Safety Software, Inc. in Iowa. 

Even without a proven track record in California, the company offered a bold promise: to unify county law enforcement under one banner. Everyone from the police departments to the District Attorney’s Office would have been able to share records in one centralized hub. 

Proponents said it would revolutionize area law enforcement. 

Instead, it turned into a $500,000 debacle when SMART Software failed to meet its deadlines and later went bankrupt. 

The fiasco left Corcoran police and the Sheriff’s Office locked into their old systems, while the Hanford and Lemoore police departments dealt with the half-broken SMART software. County officials spent months trying to get their money back, to no avail. 

The cities dealt with these issues until last year, when they banded together and adopted the RIMS software by Sun Ridge Systems. 

But the Sheriff’s Office seemed hesitant to follow. 

“We wanted to explore all our options,” Assistant Sheriff Dave Putnam said. “Sun Ridge Systems is a small company and we wanted to find a strong one that wouldn’t fold on us. Also, we needed a system with a strong jail management component, which RIMS didn’t have.” 

Putnam, who spearheaded the hunt for a better program, said they invited four companies to demonstrate their products for the county. 

“We traveled all the way to North Carolina and Salt Lake City to see these systems in action where they are being used today,” Putnam said. “We also went and spoke to the companies at their corporate offices. Our research was very thorough.”

Spillman has a proven track record, currently serving more than 1,000 agencies across the U.S., including Sacramento. 

A reason for change

The differences between the Spillman system and HTE — the antiquated software they use now — are many. 

Let’s say a call comes in for a burglary in process. With the current setup, dispatchers have to call each deputy on the radio, one at a time, to ask if they are available. Only then can someone be assigned to respond.  

This process takes time, Putnam said, making emergency situations problematic. 

Another issue: HTE is divided up into separate modules. When a dispatcher sends a deputy out on a call, she writes a report in the dispatch module. The deputy also has to write a report, but his goes into a different module. If he makes an arrest, the jail staff have to write a third report for their own records. 

“This means a lot of duplicate records and time spent rewriting the same information,” Putnam said. “With Spillman, it’s a one-stop shop. That’ll help us keep our deputies out on the street and not filing paperwork.” 

Other bells and whistles include sex offender monitoring, a GPS to track patrol cars, crime pattern prediction software and an investigative tool that tracks a suspect’s known associates, among others.

“The citizens may not notice major differences, but we’re optimistic that this will help us keep the county safe,” Robinson said. 

The public will also be able to access the Spillman system through a website. There, people can report property crimes for the insurance purposes and map out crime trends in their neighborhoods. 

“We can get this information now,” Putnam said, “but it’s not user friendly and the public can’t access it. We literally have to go screen by screen counting numbers.” 

Taking the next step

Putnam presented the Spillman system to the Board of Supervisors on Aug. 28. 

“We’ve been really positive about it,” Supervisor Doug Verboon said. “This seems like a good system that’ll take us into the future and help us keep tabs on all the bad people in our community,”

After numerous contract negotiation sessions with Spillman Technology, the price was set at around $220,000 annually. 

Robinson said this number is just slightly above the $210,000 a year they spend maintaining their old software. 

“We’ve been setting aside some money for a system upgrade,” Robinson said. “We also plan to pay for some of this with grants and with the funds we received to expand the county jail, as this software will be a major component in our expansion.” 

Given past problems, the county will only pay out money as 11 predetermined milestones are met. This way, if things go wrong, the loss will be lessened. 

“This protects the county and the taxpayers,” Robinson said. 

If all goes well, the new system will go online within about a year. Robinson estimates they will have it online by about October 2013. 

“Even with over a thousand clients, Spillman has never had a failed implementation,” Putnam said. “We think this’ll support us for the next 20 or 30 years.”

Robinson said he’s hopeful the board will vote to move forward. 

“This is the kind of positive change we need,” he said. 

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