What's on the menu
A look at Mesquite's intranet capabilities and the results that Chief Gary Westphal (who, not so coincidentally, was chosen as the first Texas "Top Cop" by other state chiefs) has sustained and it's obvious that Mesquite makes good use of its intranet. Here are some of the other uses Mesquite has developed or adopted:
- City databases are on the intranet. This includes water service and city taxes, allowing officers to track ownership and occupancy of city dwellings and businesses.
- There is a mugshot database to allow instant comparison, which comes in particularly handy during raids, arrests and field interviews.
- Case information, which allows the technology to eliminate most, if not all, of the barriers between criminal investigations and patrol can be found there. "This is a lot better than leaving a note in someone's box," Callarman adds, with a degree of understatement.
- Beat reports are also stored on the intranet, granting other personnel immediate access to the information with no lag time.
- Current weather and forecasts as they change, with a default weather screen officers can monitor or access from anywhere, comprise one of Callarman's favorite features.
- Instant contact and information sharing with other police agencies across the region is a snap with the intranet.
- The Mesquite intranet links the department with camera systems being installed at red lighted intersections. Callarman says that eventually the camera system will blanket the city giving police real-time visuals on potentially volatile situations from robbery and hostage-takings to break-ins. "Five officers three blocks away can watch them break-into a business without [the perpetrators] ever knowing it," he says.
It helps that Mesquite is not only progressive in its outlook, but also a community that embraces its police. "We are very blessed," admits Callarman. "The people here are very pro-police."
Changing community perceptions
Up the road a piece, Alan Gwinn, chief technical officer at Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University, sees both the triumphs and failures of law enforcement use of intranet technology.
"We're doing the things we watched on Star Trek," Gwinn says.
Indeed, we are. There are lots of what Gwinn calls "cool tools" available to law enforcement these days and Gwinn points to the linking of agencies as one of the most beneficial. "The concept is that law enforcement agencies can act as a clearinghouse of information for one another," Gwinn says.
One huge advantage of using intranet is that it extracts some of the human frailties from the system. That means it does what people can do, and better, particularly in the area of memory.
"How much information can a human being be expected to process on a yearly basis?" asks Gwinn rhetorically. The answer is basic in its simplicity: much less than a computerized system. And when the system multiplies its capacity many times over by departmental — or extra-departmental input — then the amount of information stored in it can approach the level of "amazing." Plus, says Gwinn, not only does sharing information help solve cases, it also brings the cost of gathering and maintaining that information down. Even small departments with bargain basement budgets can afford to jump into the intranet information swapping game.
Another plus on the intranet trail involves expertise, says Gwinn. When an officer from one jurisdiction runs into a problem with which he's either not familiar or the problem requires an expertise that the agency does not have, often interagency intranets can point to the solution.
"I might be the guy who wrote a piece of code or software in use in another city," Gwinn says, "and the best way a law enforcement agency can connect with me is through an intranet, whether or not I am in law enforcement."
While Gwinn believes law enforcement benefits from the sharing of information he also notes that criminal justice agencies have not in the past been noted for their cooperation with one another. "There tends to be a lot of proprietary [behavior] in police work," Gwinn observes. "Sometimes information doesn't even cross the desk of the guy next to you. Overcoming that tendency is a good thing and a profitable one for agencies."