A look at Speeding CAD Systems

Law enforcement managers take note—your database can play a more important role than you realize in achieving safe and effective inter-agency sharing. The high-profile Pima, Arizona shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and 18 citizens that...


Law enforcement managers take note—your database can play a more important role than you realize in achieving safe and effective inter-agency sharing. The high-profile Pima, Arizona shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and 18 citizens that occurred on Jan. 8, 2011 offers a great example.

At 10:11 a.m. Southern Arizona’s Pima County Sheriff’s Department started receiving what would become several hundred calls for help, where dispatchers entered the calls into computer-aided dispatch (CAD) software, including assailant details, and quickly assigned nearby units to respond. Deputies used laptops to see the address and location of the shooting on a map, the status of all responding units, and a list of real-time call comments describing both the attack and the assailant. The first deputy arrived at the scene at 10:15 a.m., four minutes after the initial call was received.

As the severity of the incident became apparent, dispatchers called for backup from neighboring agencies, including the Oro Valley Police Department and Marana Police Department, eventually ten total agencies. These departments had CAD system sharing arrangements with Pima County, giving officers access to real-time updates on the address, location, responding units and call comments.

By 10:16 a.m., Jared Loughner had been arrested, and medical personnel were treating the injured. Deputies identified the shooter, recovered his driver license, entered his name into the shared records system and discovered a record from the Pima County Community College Police Department from September 2010, when he was suspended for being disruptive in class and posting inflammatory videos on the Internet. From that record, deputies could see Loughner’s address, previous criminal incidents, known associates, and vehicles registered in his name.

Pima County’s Public Information Officer Dawn Barkman characterized the role of the database in the CAD system: “This incident would have been a complete chaotic mess if communications had to deal with it in the old CAD system that did not directly interface with a relational database, or even scarier, [deal with it] on paper.”

Benefits of CAD, and what to look for

Advanced CAD systems deliver information that ensures greater safety and improved situational awareness for officers responding to emergency calls.

Real-time versus cached

In 2000, the U.S. 911 system handled an average of 500,000 calls daily (about 183 million annually), according to the Center for Problem-Oriented Policing, and how calls are handled varies throughout North America. For example, when 911 calls or texts come into an emergency call center, a dispatcher enters the information into the CAD system, then determines which field unit should respond. Systems set up to cache data may cause a delay of critical seconds between entering the call and assigning the field unit. However, when a CAD system can deliver data in real-time, officers may see the call data as it is entered, even before the dispatcher selects the available unit to respond. In the field you may realize that you are closest and respond, shaving off vital seconds.

The database also determines whether the CAD and the mobile systems access the same database or data sets, or requires an interim step to move data between the two systems, slowing communications.

Inter-system and inter-agency sharing

CAD systems extend beyond computing devices and software, and may link to other systems such as alarm inputs, mobile data systems, time synchronization sources, records management systems, other agencies; and local, county, state and federal criminal justice databases.

Since 9/11, the focus has been on improving information-sharing between agencies and jurisdictions. Federal Guidelines for Governance Agreements in Public Safety Information Sharing Projects state, “Advancements in public safety CAD, records management systems , and other associated systems have made it efficient and safe for multiple agencies to share the administration and support of these systems. Meanwhile, the development and wide adoption of the National Information Exchange Model (NIEM) standard have made it technically easier to share data.”

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