The Spokane Police Department wants to wire most of its patrol cars with computers, saying the $1.5 million system will help officers get vital information faster and easier.
The request must first go to the City Council, which did not have enough money in this year’s budget for the system.
Police officials are building their case for buying the “mobile data terminal system” on the track record of cities that have used it for years.
Seattle police have used the system in the field for six years. Portland’s finest have been on-line for nearly 20 years.
“It does two things well,” said Portland Police Department spokesman Pat Nelson. “It means less time spent on the radio, trying to get answers on something going on.
“And it gives police officers on patrol much better information than they would get otherwise, via radio.”
Spokane Police Chief Terry Mangan wants to put between 80 and 100 terminals in patrol cars by the end of the year. The city has about 140 marked cars in its fleet.
But it will take creative financing to pay the bill.
City Manager Roger Crum suggested an option might be bonds that don’t require a public vote and would be paid back with city revenue.
The terminals have small display screens attached to keyboards. Officers can punch in information requests or receive messages.
Spokane Police dispatchers often find themselves deluged with calls for information on busy shifts, said Capt. John Sullivan.
Officers might wait several minutes for the dispatcher to find out the status of a person they’re investigating, or determine if a car is stolen.
A car terminal can get those answers within 15 seconds, said Seattle Police Systems Manager David Waltier.
Spokane City Councilman Chris Anderson said the system allows more efficient use of officers’ and dispatchers’ time. Officers would be safer when making arrests or stops, he said.
“I see this as the final piece in the investment in our upgrade to the police department’s computer-dispatch system,” Anderson said.
The new system, when finished this spring, gives dispatchers faster access to large state and county data bases.
Users of the mobile data terminals would get that same quick access, said Sullivan.
Seattle and Portland police say they’ve come to depend on patrol car computers.
“We have officers who will refuse to take out a car if the mobile unit is broken,” said Waltier.
The terminals also let officers send each other electronic messages. “That lets them communicate when they don’t want information going out over the air,” Waltier said.
Seattle has about 250 cars using the system. Portland has 350 terminals and has added several upgrades, said Nelson.
A license plate number of a car connected to a possible crime instantly shows an “alert message” if a Portland officer keys it into the system.
Police supervisors there can also search the city’s terminal network and identify areas where more requests for information or help are occurring.
“If one city zone has 12 different events occurring, and one next to it has four, a supervisor sees that and can bring in help from the less busy one, just like that,” Nelson said, snapping his fingers.
Spokane probably saved money by not buying such a system five years ago, Nelson said.
“Now, the computers being used are faster and not as expensive as before. And they’re much more reliable,” he said.
Because not every car has the terminals, dispatchers are still required to use radio-voice commands when handling major incidents or emergencies.
Even if Spokane buys the system, police dispatchers won’t become obsolete. They would need to communicate with cars that don’t have terminals.