December 22, 2013 in City

Spokane city-county dispatch systems outdated, sheriff says

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Funding

Money for a new Spokane city-county emergency dispatch system would come from these places:

$2 million from the countywide 911 system

$2 million from a voter-approved sales tax

$1 million from Spokane County’s general fund

$1 million from the city of Spokane’s general fund

Computer equipment used to dispatch law-enforcement officers in Spokane County is 20 to 25 years old.

Replacing that equipment with a 21st-century computer system cannot happen soon enough, as far as Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich is concerned.

Advanced digital capabilities have become a powerful weapon in modern policing, he said.

The sheriff in recent weeks has expressed impatience with the city of Spokane in reaching an agreement on replacing the aging system for dispatching and record-keeping.

“Our systems do not keep our community safe,” Knezovich said last week. “We need a system that works with us, not against us.”

Spokane police Chief Frank Straub said he agrees with Knezovich, but there are a number of details that need to be ironed out before a purchase is made.

The county has negotiated a $1 million discount with Motorola, the company that has been under contract to upgrade the county’s radio communication system under voter approval.

The county has $5 million lined up for the $6 million project, but county officials are waiting on the city of Spokane to kick in its $1 million share.

Straub said City Hall wants to take a closer look at cost allocation among agencies, including the possibility of bringing smaller law-enforcement agencies into the system. In addition, the city wants to hire a consultant to manage implementation.

“The emphasis is making sure we do this correctly,” said Gavin Cooley, chief financial officer for the city.

But the city did not include the dispatch and record-keeping system in its 2014 budget, Knezovich said.

Part of the sheriff’s impatience stems from a deadline a year from now requiring the county to comply with current national standards for crime reporting. Not meeting those standards would jeopardize federal grant money critical to the sheriff’s budget.

Officers at the city-county Public Safety Building have already done two years of planning for the system purchase, he said.

County officials said they might have to take installment payments from the city rather than collecting cash up front for the deal. Top city and county officials last week were trying to work out the details.

The new computer system is a key to bringing Spokane-area law enforcement up to speed with a trend known as “intelligence-led policing.”

The improved system would give commanders a better idea of the enforcement personnel and resources needed to tackle crime outbreaks or emergencies. The data would flow to them in real time, allowing for faster and more efficient responses.

Knezovich said the capabilities will help in a regional task force set up last April to combat a high level of thefts and burglaries. The new system will speed up and enhance the ability of analysts to see crime patterns developing.

The new system would quickly assemble a wide range of data through crime incident reports, suspicious person reports, police contacts, criminal records and live dispatch calls.

Knezovich and Straub said commanders would be able to monitor digital screens displaying connected information and allow them to make strategic decisions in moments.

Straub said the system will enhance efforts to predict where the next burglary is going to occur so officers can be waiting for the criminals to show up.

Keeping tabs on activity downtown will be enhanced, officials said.

On another level, the system will shorten the amount of time officers spend writing reports by automatically filling in information already available to the computers.

Video could be transmitted from the field to a dispatcher and out to officers to help them deal with a given situation. Geo-locations are attached to every move.

In addition, citizens could more quickly obtain crime and accident reports for insurance claims.

“Think about 20 years ago,” Straub said. “You didn’t even have a cellphone on your belt.”

The project is going to be funded with $2 million from the countywide 911 system, $2 million from a voter-approved sales tax for emergency communications and $1 million each from the general tax funds of the city and county.

Straub said he wants to make sure that all area law enforcement agencies have a chance to buy into the new system’s capabilities. That could include police at area universities.

He said that planners are still working out details about how the new system will manage data from the old system.

There are also discussions about creating a computerized bridge between the new law enforcement system and the existing fire dispatch system, which holds information that can be valuable to police officers and deputies.

The city also wants to negotiate the cost of future upgrades. Buying a complete package up front rather than adding items later will cost less, Straub said.

Cooley said the city can seek a budget amendment from the City Council to pay its share of the purchase. He said the deal could be in place by early next year.


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