Interoperability in action

      The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office and the Clearwater Police Department partnered to combine their resources to enhance technological interoperability, improve incident response, increase officer safety and provide a platform that other agencies could join in the future. The possibilities of countywide connectivity are numerous and available, since the CAD-to-CAD connectivity has been expanded to include two or more remote CAD-to-CAD connections. Additionally, for agencies that dispatch for multiple agencies (police, fire, EMS), configurations can be made to direct and send an incident to a specific agency, or all agencies, depending on the nature of the incident.

   Pinellas County is the most densely populated county for its size in the state of Florida. PCSO, 11 police departments and numerous other state and local public safety services operate in this small space. Out of a strong desire to promote information sharing among these agencies, Pinellas County government developed an information-sharing organization known as the Pinellas Assembly.

   As a member of this Assembly, the City of Clearwater city leaders were committed early on to information sharing as a prerequisite for any new technology implemented by the police department. In 2006, when Clearwater Police began the process of procuring a new communications solution including computer-aided dispatch, mobile data and records management systems, information sharing was an important component in their request for proposal (RFP). CPD's existing system had become increasingly difficult to maintain and did not provide data sharing capabilities to communicate with other agencies and external jurisdictions. An important requirement for CPD's new solution was to include a bi-directional interface to the sheriff's communications and dispatch system.

   With this in mind, CPD invited PCSO to participate and provide input in the procurement process, and a natural partnership was formed based on the common goal of saving time and money through a joint procurement. The combined team reviewed numerous RFPs, observed various vendor demonstrations and conducted site visits to other agencies where the proposed technology was already operational.

   Opening the door to information sharing at one level provided benefits at many other levels.

   In addition to partnering on the computer-aided dispatch and mobile systems, CPD partnered with PCSO on its records management system and in-field computer reporting capabilities. CPD is also able to share in the automated ticket writing program initially in place at the PCSO.

   It is important to remember that PCSO and Clearwater Police are remain two distinct and autonomous law enforcement agencies operating on separate communications systems. CPD and PCSO operate separate communications centers, with their separate CAD and mobile systems and infrastructure. CPD and PCSO launched their CAD and mobile data solution in October 2007 and November 2007, respectively.

Real-time information sharing

   Prior to the introduction of the interface, calls for information from other jurisdictions or for mutual aid were transferred manually by call-takers in communications centers. When citizen calls come in, after gathering details, a call taker finds out that the crime occurred outside the center's jurisdiction and the call will be transferred to another agency, forcing the caller to repeat the story a second time. This cycle of call-and-repeat delays response time.

   The new interface has provided great value to both operations. While phone calls are still transferred manually to CPD, the actual information about the caller and the incident is seamlessly transferred with the click of a button or via command line. The CPD dispatcher instantaneously has the call ticket in his or her queue, along with all the pertinent information. The response to the call is already being evaluated even before the call is physically transferred.

   The PCSO and CPD partnership not only involved procuring the technology, but also included the creation of agreed-upon "business rules," which govern the operation of the system. The technology behind the interface enables automatic acknowledgements to confirm receipt of an incident between the CAD systems, or message notifications in the event of sending failure. As an additional precaution to ensure receipt and notification of the call, a business rule was created that the other agency must manually acknowledge receipt and acceptance of the call before the call-taker cancels out the call ticket.

   For example, Clearwater Police can acknowledge acceptance by adding a comment such as "CW will handle," or "CW will send X Unit." These comments will automatically display in the incident comments section or through text messaging. Additionally, radio frequencies and telephone lines can be freed up between the dispatch centers through functionality similar to instant and text messaging. When working on calls together, a PCSO dispatcher can send and receive messages to the CPD dispatcher or supervisor or broadcast the message to all dispatchers.

   When a CAD-to-CAD incident is dispatched, details such as who is working the call, (dispatcher and unit), where the other units are, status updates, comments and notes associated with the call are instantly known in real time. The new process and technology have made calls transferred to other jurisdictions much quicker and smoother. More information is also available to the dispatchers and field units during the incident.

Joint-op unit sharing

   With the advanced CAD-to-CAD interface, unit sharing lets CPD monitor PCSO units. The Sheriff's units can also be assigned to police incidents as needed and vice versa. In the PCSO CAD system, its "home" units are the deputies' vehicles and "mirrored" units are the CPD's shared units. Color-coded, the units are displayed in the dispatcher's unit status queue and in the CAD's integrated mapping component.

   While the extra number of mirrored units may seem overwhelming to a dispatcher, the system can be configured to not show all mirrored units. The units will not clutter a dispatcher's unit status screen because they only appear when selected on the dispatcher's "Watch List," or if responding as part of a joint operation.

   For example, on joint operations such as setting up perimeters, PCSO can map CPD's units and locations and communicate with CPD dispatchers and its units. Clearwater dispatchers can also see PCSO units on their screens and make adjustments to unit locations in order to establish an effective perimeter. Seeing the events transpire visually is beneficial because the end result is more effective and communications via radio and computer text messaging are clearer.

   The officers and deputies in the field also benefit because the additional information arms them with better situational details. Both CPD and PCSO operate on VisiNet Mobile, TriTech's mobile data solution, and the advanced CAD-to-CAD extends to the company's mobile data solution. Field personnel can view the location of each other's units on the mobile map and are able to communicate with each other via mobile-to-mobile messaging, thereby reducing dispatcher workload and radio traffic.

Working together

   The widespread growth of consolidation and collocation of public safety communication services has arisen out of a need for interoperability and regional communications. PCSO and CPD have proven that a strong partnership can achieve mutually beneficial goals. The implementation of flexible technology makes these goals achievable while both agencies can still maintain their jurisdictional autonomy and control.

   The advanced CAD-to-CAD empowers two separate law enforcement agencies to operate on their own systems according to their own business rules, yet have the ability to seamlessly exchange incident information and share this information with the units in the field. This new platform for information sharing ensures efficient inter-agency communication and response, resulting in better service to the public.

   With more than 29 years experience with the sheriff's office, Lt. Wallace Colcord manages the Communications Center staff at the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office. He's been an instructor on forensic equipment and property and evidence software around the country for more than 15 years, and has a bachelor's degree from USF in Criminal Justice.