Spokane County law enforcement and residents may soon be able to access real-time data about crimes in progress, thanks to a dispatch system upgrade in the works.
Spokane County commissioners on Tuesday signed a $2.9 million contract with New World Systems to replace an aging city-county law enforcement dispatch and records management system at half the cost the county originally projected.
The upgrade is the product of several years of conversation about the need to replace a 20-year-old computer-aided dispatch system that police Chief Frank Straub said has been held together “with bubblegum and glue and Band-Aids.”
City and county officials said the new system would provide 21st-century tools to fight crime, including giving dispatchers access to the current location of law enforcement vehicles and providing an up-to-date crime map so resources can be directed to high-crime areas more quickly.
Dispatchers would have access to bird’s-eye views of the county, allowing them to direct law enforcement vehicles via the fastest possible route and provide data for staging incidents in progress.
The new system also will allow police to record crime using the National Incident-Based Reporting System, a federal standard that will be mandatory within several years. The current dispatch system only supports the older summary form of reporting, which collects less detailed data about individual crimes.
“This is a game-changer for us,” Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich said.
The project is expected to be completed 18 to 24 months after the contract is signed, with annual maintenance costs of $400,000. The city of Spokane will share implementation and maintenance costs with the county based on usage, and a portion of the project will be funded with 911 excise taxes and emergency communication taxes.
“This is a huge win for Spokane County taxpayers,” Commissioner Shelly O’Quinn said.
New World, a Michigan-based software company, has been involved in several contract disputes on the west side of the state over delays in implementation of its dispatch software. But Spokane officials say they’re confident they can avoid the pitfalls that caused problems with those agencies.
Projects with the North East King County Regional Public Safety Communication Agency (NORCOM) and Southwest Snohomish County Communications Agency (SNOCOM) ended with settlements in which New World agreed to reduce maintenance fees because of software issues.
SNOCOM’s software, which includes law enforcement and police dispatching for multiple agencies, was originally scheduled to go live in 2011, 18 months after the agency signed an initial contract. That date has been pushed back several times and is now scheduled for June.
SNOCOM was able to get New World to reduce its maintenance payments in a January 2014 settlement, based on the delays in implementation.
New World agreed to pay NORCOM $850,000 in a June 2014 settlement after NORCOM gave up and selected another vendor for its fire dispatch. The law enforcement dispatch system now works, Executive Director Tom Orr said, though it had some lingering software issues at the end of 2014.
Per NORCOM’s settlement, future maintenance payments are contingent on New World delivering software that works, he said.
Ariane Schmidt, the computer-aided dispatch project manager for Spokane, said she was aware of the issues those agencies have had with New World and had spoken with staff at SNOCOM and another Snohomish County communications center.
Spokane’s New World contract includes performance incentives that require the company to complete certain milestones to get paid, she said.
“We feel that we’re well covered in that manner,” she said.
The city-county project is also less complex because it’s for law enforcement only, not fire and medical, and combines fewer individual agencies, she said.
“It’s great that we’ve got them to look ahead of the schedule. Their hindsight is our foresight,” she said.