Through a $98,000, 2004 COPS grant, the agency was able to put into service a 24-foot motor coach mobile communications center from Dodgen Industries Inc.
Choosing the 24-footer was a smart option for this department, as the state of Maryland does not require a special license to operate the vehicle. "Any officer could get the keys and go out and drive," says Lt. Bob Rappoport, homeland security and emergency preparedness director at the Rockville PD, who also stresses the benefit this offers in the event of an emergency. The agency has developed a training program for motor coach operation.
The Rockville PD patrols approximately 20 special events a year, and rolls this unit out for more than half. "It's in the eye of the public on a fairly regular basis," he says, "and a lot of people are saying 'Wow. We didn't know this existed.'"
For the Fourth of July, as well as the three-day Hometown Holidays Festival over Memorial Day weekend, an immense amount of police resources is required to not interrupt normal police duties, as well as provide presence at the event.
The Rockville PD itself boasts 52 sworn officers and 34 civilian employees. "By using the mobile communications center, we can staff it with an additional dispatcher and run all our special events on a separate channel."
At these events, most always representation from the fire/rescue service is stationed in the command center, as well as the city's public works, and parks and recreation staff. Seamless communications are possible when all major players are in the same room, at the same table, discussing operational strategies.
In addition to the run-of-the-mill major police response, the city's truck inspectors take the motor coach on the road for their inspections. "It's great for them because it has computers and printers," says Rappoport. "After they do an inspection, they print a copy of the report and give it to the driver."
Child fingerprinting is a large community draw, and the awning on the motor coach provides a perfect place to set up this public service. The department has moved to inkless fingerprinting, a computer technology which can be powered through the unit's generator.
The police honor guard has even taken advantage of the transportation and mobile changing room this vehicle provides during police funerals, saving fuel, and providing storage for flags and other items.
Looking ahead ... and behind...
"What they want to know up front before they give you the money is, 'How's this going to benefit the guys next door? Are you going to share? Do you have a mutual aid agreement?'" says Rappoport.
"They" is the government. Rockville is part of the Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI), a directive of the Department of Homeland Security. The UASI provides "financial assistance to address the unique planning, equipment, training, and exercise needs of high-threat, high-density urban areas, and to assist them in building an enhanced and sustainable capacity to prevent, respond to and recover from threats or acts of terrorism."
This money, Rappoport says, is dispersed among many entities, such as public health, public works, fire, police, hospitals, etc., "so everyone's fighting for the same pot."
This lieutenant suggests agencies dedicate time to researching vendors as well as clearly deciphering the uses for which their command center will have. Speaking with agencies that have purchased the vehicle and asking for shortfalls, as well as successes, can be a valuable resource during the purchasing process.
An agency must have a strong mission in place when applying for grant funding. The first few years, during which major funding became available, guidelines were much looser, he explains. "People were getting a lot of money and there was no coordination of what our county was doing in relation to other agencies," says Rappoport.
The unit Rockville acquired fills a distinctive position in the Montgomery County area vehicle fleet. The county police own a substantial mobile command unit, equipped with WLAN and satellite technology, as well as digital recording capabilities. The fire department also deploys a large command truck for critical and lengthy emergencies.