Records upgrade shelves 20-year-old system
By JAMES DRAPER
When an officer needs information, there’s no middle ground: either the data is available, an asset, or it’s missing, a potentially dangerous handicap.
“The more information you’ve got, the better decision you can make,” Roman Roberson says.
According to Kilgore Police Department’s assistant chief, for years local law enforcement has been hampered by sluggish, subpar software that became an obstacle to information gathering and, more importantly, to retrieval.
“That’s what really drives, to some extent, law enforcement is information. It’s the basis of what we do every day as police officers,” Roberson said Tuesday. “We’re good at collecting a ton of information and not doing much with it.”
Moving forward, however, KPD has found the means to put its information to better use through a new record management system from Spillman Technologies Inc.
The software replacement began more than a year ago, Roberson said, but the need arose much earlier: KPD personnel were spending more and more time repairing their outdated Cardinal interface. The 20-year-old platform was showing its age, forcing employees to develop a wide variety of redundant workarounds in spreadsheets and other documents to pick up the software’s slack.
“We knew our system was broken. It was just to the point we’d outgrown it, and it wasn’t providing us the service we needed.”
Up-to-date and upgradeable, Spillman eliminates the need for those workarounds, Roberson insisted, folding them into its core elements while offering numerous new features.
Among a number of RMS software options, the Nacogdoches Police Department was already utilizing Spillman, as were the Nacogdoches County Sheriff’s Office and other county agencies. Interviewing personnel there, “They, of course, were very pleased with it,” Roberson said, and City of Kilgore administrators ultimately approved KPD’s transition to the Spillman software. “We saw them as a forward-thinking organization, someone to carry us in the future. We know how fast technology changes. This system here, we know we can grow with it.”
The broad transition to the new RMS began in April, and the department took the software live July 29.
“Over the past several months we’ve been training everybody in the department in its usage,” he said, estimating the new system will hold twice the amount of information as its predecessor at KPD. “It’s a whole different animal. I’m still learning myself. The great thing, when we get through it, we’ll have a great tool for our officers and for the City of Kilgore.
“It definitely means efficient service. That’s what it comes down to.”
According to Roberson, nowadays KPD – like other agencies – relies on three principal digital tools: its record management system, computer-aided dispatch and patrol officers’ in-car mobile interface.
A robust records management system, integrated with the mobile units, puts relevant data immediately in front of an officer, offering a more complete understanding of a given situation and the people involved.
For example, Roberson said, the new software includes a wide variety of ‘Alert Codes’ tied to records, collected from past encounters with individuals – the previous investigating officer may have flagged the subject as having a mental health issue; the subject might be a convicted felon or typically in possession of a weapon; among a litany of tags, Spillman also includes an alert code for a “Martial Arts Expert.”
“We can actually go in here and do a search on any amount of identifiers,” Roberson insisted. Much of the data is the same as has always been collected and archive, he added: Spillman streamlines retrieval, say, during a traffic stop. “If we’ve handled them before, when it comes up it will actually give (the officer) an audible alert.”
In the midst of a case, investigators can use the new software to pull up an intuitive 2D visualization of a single suspect, a data-tree linking that person to his or her known associates, residences and vehicles. It even allows officers to search incident data according to known suspects’ modus operandi.
“This software, every field is searchable. We can actually go in here and do a search on any amount of identifiers. We can go in and pull a tremendous amount of information out of it,” Roberson explained. “You can go point-to-point with it, which is a great investigative tool. It looks for relationships between the information.”
It’s the same thing investigators do by training and experience: look for relationships and use that knowledge to put a case together. In the past, the investigators were limited by what they could hold in their memories or find in hard-copy. Longproved methods still compile the data, Roberson said, and the latest technology collates it, correlates it, makes it immediately accessible.
“If we do it right, a brand new officer can come in and have all that information at your fingertips.”
The system allows users to attach key, additional information to any record – responding to an incident at a school, Roberson said, officers will be able to pull up layouts of the building’s interior as well as a list of key contacts on campus: “That information, in a critical situation, is very important.”
Overall work-flow in the department is set to improve through the digital bridge as well, Roberson said: “We’re not going to be pushing as much paper around,” using electronic updates and messaging to keep personnel on the same digital page.
Spillman also incorporates GPS tracking data: in one application – integrating mapping software and officers’ mobile units – dispatchers can track personnel in the field in real-time: if an officer is on a call, the incident is flagged in red; if a car is available, it’s green. If an officer hasn’t reported in recently, the system warns dispatchers of the loss of contact.
“They know where all their officers are,” Roberson explained, who is free and closest to a new call, who can be immediately dispatched to assist. “This is a great tool for dispatchers, for officers.”
Beyond the law enforcement interface, the new software can also be tied to Kilgore Fire Department’s Firehouse records management software in addition to the emergency dispatchers’ setup.
“Everything’s going to be integrated into it,” Roberson said.
With the bulk of their records still link to the Cardinal software, KPD will maintain the old system for about a year while building the Spillman data-stores. It’s too costly to try to dump the existing archive into the new software, Roberson said, and there’s a risk Cardinal’s information would corrupt the Spillman collections.
“We felt it better just to maintain that old system and move to the new system,” he explained, using Cardinal, while it lasts, as a static archive. “The more we have centralized, the better off we are because it’s easier to find it.”
The new system provides an immediate increase in the safety of emergency personnel, Roberson said; it’s an overall improvement in their ability assist the public and a new source of necessary information for individuals.
“This is public information,” he insisted. Whether there’s a person collecting information for their insurance company after a wreck, a crime victim collecting reports, a resident keeping tabs on happenings in their neighborhood or a newspaper seeking the most recent police reports, “We work for the people of Kilgore – any information we have, they can get.”
One part of installing the new software has been redesigning Kilgore’s designated zones: in addition to incorporating the newest portions of the city north of Interstate 20, through the records management system KPD has subdivided and categorized other zones for reporting purposes – investigators, and others, can easily review criminal activity in the Main Street District, the Downtown Entertainment District, industrial areas, shopping centers, neighborhoods and more.
“That helps focus our resources in those areas. We can analyze and research and look at where crimes are occurring,” Roberson said, and individuals can do the same, whether they’re researching an upcoming relocation or worried about recent vehicle burglaries. “All that information is available.”
Data collection has been in the news a lot this summer, he allowed, following National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden leaks about the government’s mass digital snooping and other developments.
Local law enforcement’s methods aren’t cloak-anddagger, Roberson said. KPD is archiving information collected through its standard operating procedures and making the data available for anyone’s inspection.
“Any contact with the public, we document. From the time you call the police department, everything you have, we keep, we log. The officer responds, he’s going to do some type of reporting,” Roberson explained. However, “We can’t look at the future and know what information we’ll be searching for at a given time.”
“We collect this information for the public – it belongs to them. It’s not secret by any means. It’s here for folks who need it.”
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