Wanted: An easier way to track records

     Remember the days when you had just finished a patrol shift, then returned to the police station and spent an hour or two writing a report? And how easy was it to retrieve a report when your supervisor needed it fast? Not very.

     Incredibly, many police departments still use these and other antiquated methods of records management, such as Microsoft Access — a clunky database management system notorious for allowing users to enter data but not extract it. Such methods are the worst criminals, because they steal precious time and hold productivity hostage until a new technology arrives in town.

     Today many smaller police departments (as well as mid-size and large ones, too) using the Crimestar Records Management System (RMS) are finding quick relief since this innovative software easily integrates multiple reporting processes typically done on paper. What's more, the software has been designed to operate on modern, low-cost, high-performing personal computers running on the latest Windows operating system. This means the software can be used on both laptops and rugged mobile data terminals in a patrol car.

Automating is vital

     Crimestar Corp. began in 1999, aiming to provide police departments of any size or jurisdiction with an automated method to manage all aspects of records and information management. At that time, there were no software products for small police departments in particular, according to Alec Gagne, the company's founder.

     Today, most departments have some kind of RMS that is probably automated, and for good reason. "There's a greater volume of data to be captured, stored, managed and analyzed," Gagne explains. "And this is making automation more necessary now than it ever has been in the past. This used to be the case primarily with large law enforcement agencies, but now that dynamic is pushing its way to small towns."

     Consequently, Crimestar began offering software with capabilities such as:

  • Investigative alerts on dangerous persons or subjects of interest.
  • Ability to record detailed information on a subject including historical address summary, alias names, known associates, multiple digital photos and summary of law enforcement contacts and criminal involvements.
  • Track relationships between people, vehicles and locations through common documents and associations.
Linking RMS and CAD

     The New London, N.H., Police Department serves nearly 4,300 people across 13 communities and has eight full-time sworn officers and four part-time officers.

     Two years ago New London adopted Crimestar RMS, but not without a firm condition. "I wanted software that integrated right into dispatch so that our dispatcher could record a lot of the initial information and officers could backfill the remainder (information)," explains Chief David Seastrand.

     The chief would not be disappointed.

     The New London PD is also the Regional Dispatch Center for six surrounding towns, each of which uses the Crimestar RMS as well. The Crimestar CAD system is installed at the dispatch center. This means that information can be shared among police departments in these multiple towns via the RMS while allowing New London to maintain control of its own records management system.

     Seastrand decided to install the complete RMS/CAD and MDC solution to create an integrated information management system, but also to extend resources into the field where officers could manage records and write reports directly from the patrol car.

Real-time field monitoring

     The Mobile Digital Communicator is a powerful and secure digital dispatch/data communications system for field officers. This system allows field patrol units to be silently dispatched to calls via Crimestar's CAD. As a result, patrol units can monitor all CAD events and unit activity in real time, view important call details, maintain their own status for assigned calls or event disposition comments, send private and secure car-to-dispatch or car-to-car messages, and perform comprehensive name, vehicle and property searches in the local or regional Crimestar database.

     Another valuable feature of the MDC is that it helps ensure officer safety with GPS and mapping abilities enabled so that real time latitude and longitude coordinates for field units and events can be visually displayed on digital maps.

     New London Officer Rob Thorp says the MDC "gives us the ability to communicate in stealth mode."

     "We sign off at a location, give the dispatcher the information on what we're doing, where we're at, and they just acknowledge via their terminal, and no one knows where we are."

Prioritizing call urgency

     Because of New London PD's integrated records management system, Thorp estimates that his productivity in the field has increased by 35 to 40 percent. "That means I can stop five more cars on a shift," Thorp says. "But it also means our officers can stay on the road more consistently, for 8 hours a shift as opposed to 4 or 5 hours before."

     For Heather Wood, dispatcher for New London's Regional Dispatch Center, the CAD system allows more information to be captured and stored at the start of a call. "If an officer needs to pull off the side of the road to add any notes he needs for that record, he can do so, but it may not be urgent to do this when the officer is actually on the call," she says.

     Recording all information for a call for service in the CAD module is essential because it may need to be referenced at a later time. Wood says this is why the Regional Dispatch Center prints a CAD sheet from the Crimestar CAD system whenever there is a request for discovery on radio transmissions. Armed with the CAD sheet, "We go back to our recording program and are able to pull tapes according to what's been logged in Crimestar's CAD so that we can get to the transmission more easily," Wood explains.

     With RMS software, there tends to be big price differentials as vendors each target a particular size of police agency and city population, and may or may not break out modules such as RMS, computer-aided dispatch and mobile data communications. Some RMS programs can cost no more than a few thousand while others can begin at the $500,000 mark and can spiral upward fast. The cost for the Crimestar RMS system (sold on a concurrent user licensing basis) starts at $3,000. (The Crimestar CAD and MDC systems are sold separately.)

     "We decided we could offer an RMS product that does everything more expensive and elaborate software will do, at a price threshold that even the small customers can afford," Gagne says.

The software litmus test

     There is no denial that automating records management can save a tremendous amount of time and make data retrieval quicker and more streamlined. For an agency looking into new records management solutions, choosing the right software to fit a department's needs can seem daunting with the variety of vendors and options available.

     The fact that New London police officers now have a group of information management systems (RMS/CAD/MDC) that is mobile saves time and allows them to be more efficient and productive, fixing the problems the agency had with its previous systems.

     "I can now enter my information into the RMS, do database searches and prepare reports right from the patrol unit," Thorp explains.

     For the New London Police, these capabilities give officers the opportunity to patrol more. And because it is a regional dispatch center and handles police, fire and ambulance calls for nine towns, the CAD system is able to offer added efficiencies, giving those connected an easier way to track, link and store records.

For agencies of all sizes

     If you are in the market for a records management software system to fit your police agency's specific needs, in addition to Crimestar Corp., several vendors offer RMS programs that target small, mid-size and large police departments, with varying price ranges:

  • Information Technologies Inc.
  • InterAct Public Safety Systems
  • Intergraph
  • New World Systems
  • Public Safety Systems Inc.
  • Spillman Technologies
  • Tiburon Inc.
  • TriTech Software Systems

     Bob Galvin specializes in writing about public safety. He can be reached at rsgpr@msn.com.