‘Sticker shock’ for new CPD dispatch system

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Police Chief Hoyle: 'It's the most critical piece of software we use.'

CORNELIUS, N.C. — Glenn Armstead is apparently a pretty bad guy. He's been pulled over in a 1994 Ford Escort, a 1988 Olds Cutlass, has had a protection order served on him as well as a summons, is a suspect in an arson and more. And all of this knowledge is instantly available to police officers who pull him over or are dispatched to his home address.

But not to officers of the Cornelius Police Department, and Police Chief Bence Hoyle wants to change all that.

Armstead may or may not be a real individual utilized in a link analysis example given by the provider of a dispatch and records keeping system Hoyle wants to incorporate into his department's crime fighting and prevention efforts, but he played a starring role in a slide presentation Hoyle made to the Cornelius Town Board of Commissioners during their Monday, March 2, meeting.

By contrast, when a Cornelius police officer is dispatched on a call, he or she is half blind, and would likely know little about someone like Glenn Armstead. The computer aided dispatch (CAD) system can't provide data stored in the records management system (RMS), which often means the officer knows little about the individual to whom, or the address or automobile to which, he or she is responding.

Two weeks prior to commissioners going to their annual budget and planning retreat in Winston-Salem, Hoyle gave them a heads-up on his request for the new system that, if approved, would be designed and installed by Spillman Technologies. It would integrate CAD and RMS services, provide real-time data to cruiser-mounted computers and hand-held devices, and include the link analysis feature that would, at a glance, provide a visual graphic of any suspect's known criminal history.

Even during the course of investigations, CPD officers and detectives cannot rely on real time information about suspects or their associates, sometimes depending on hallway conversations with colleagues while waiting for records to be pulled. If needed after hours, that information may not be available to them until the next day.

To rectify that and to further enhance his department's law enforcement capabilities, Hoyle wants to spend $550,000, including $47,000 for miscellaneous equipment needs, to replace the CPD's outmoded system. Fifty percent of the $503,000 price of the system would be paid for out of the department's drug forfeiture fund, the other half from the town's general fund balance.

“A half-million dollar piece of software is not Microsoft Office,” he told commissioners regarding the 18 months of research he and his department have invested in his request. “There are no do-overs on this. Its the most critical piece of software we use.”

The department's current vendor of CAD and RMS services was acquired in 2005, Hoyle told the board, and since then it has not effectively upgraded its system, nor does he expect any improvement in the level of service in the coming years. Currently, the two systems operate separately with an officer working on a call not necessarily knowing how many calls have been made to an address through the CAD system.

To find that out, an officer must go to the RMS system, even though both services are provided by the same vendor. Even then, that information is not available immediately. A fully integrated system will immediately provide warning alerts for names, vehicles and addresses that have previously been entered into the records through link analysis.

Integrated into the core of the software, link analysis automatically scans and reports links between suspects, associates, vehicles and crimes. “We currently do not have this capability,” Hoyle told the board.

Beyond real-time data available for officers on calls, Hoyle said the system offers a more efficient workflow through seamless integration of report filing. All data collected by an officer is immediately transferred into the entire system with no re-typing of information for reports on every phase of an encounter. It includes an automated swipe system for driver's licenses with all data transferred into RMS and built-in crime analysis reporting.

Hoyle told the board that with the new system he could send four officers to four different places to speak to persons of interest, and those interviews and information would be immediately available to each through the system. Residents even have access with online crime reporting capability. With hand-held integration, not only is the data available to officers in police cruisers with computers, but to those on bikes, on foot or on the lake. Because the new system's mapping is based on latitude and longitude rather than street address, it's more effective for lake patrols.

Next generation

Any significant request from Hoyle is guaranteed to elicit a response from Commissioner Dave Gilroy, Hoyle's regular sparring partner when it comes to the CPD's budget requests. Hoyle is highly technology-oriented, and Gilroy — the board's most staunch budget hawk — regularly questions him regarding how investments in technology can be offset by personnel reductions, or at the very least, fewer future personnel additions.

“This is an eye-popping ticket price to say the least for the size of this town,” Gilroy told Hoyle. “Certainly, there is a whole lot in there in the list of benefits of efficiencies and the cost savings of reducing duplicitous work. Have you done any work around what kind of return you might get with this software?”

Hoyle responded that Cornelius is growing, and he doesn't expect the efficiencies provided by the software to result in a reduction of staff, but rather would improve the level of service and crime-solving capabilities of his officers. Technology, he said, cannot replace officers on patrol.

“I think we need to be ready for the next generation of problem solving,” Hoyle said. “We need information in the field. We need officers to have access to real-time information. … The way I look at it is if these officers can see information in the system from the time the call comes into the call center, we have a better chance of solving that crime. Those officers are still going to be out in the field.”

Hoyle admitted to subjecting the commissioners to “sticker shock” with the cost, but added that it's in line with the investments other departments of similar size make in integrated communications and record-keeping software. But he said the system's expansion capabilities allow it to be used well into the future.

“There's nothing in here that I would consider fancy,” Hoyle said. “I can't reduce this sticker shock. … (This) has to do with what we'll be doing in 20 years. … I don't want to put anything in place that 10 years from now, you'll be asking, 'why did we do that?'”

Spillman's systems are used in some 1,200 agencies in 39 states including North Carolina, Hoyle said. It comes with enhanced graphic analysis capabilities that provide a clear picture of crime trends and predictability.

Commissioners could vote on Hoyle's request at their next meeting on Monday, March 16, or discuss it further during their retreat the following two days. If approved, Spillman requires 50 percent payment in advance, which Hoyle said could be drug forfeiture money, with the balance due upon completion in about nine months.

The town's current drug forfeiture fund balance is $392,000. Using $250,000 of that would leave $142,000. Presuming the town comes to a lake patrol agreement with Mecklenburg County and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, a second police boat at about $100,000 plus a truck to tow it would nearly drain that balance. The town has been using those funds for permissible capital expenditures for the CPD, and both Hoyle and Town Attorney Bill Brown told the board the trend is toward a reduced share of drug forfeiture money coming back to the town.

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