Glasscock and Reagan counties in West Texas share a common border, but criminals know no boundaries. The two rural counties are breaking down the barriers between them with new software that allows law enforcement to share critical information about crimes and investigations.
Recently, the Glasscock County Sheriff’s Office received a call about a reckless driver speeding southbound toward the county line. “We had no one close, so we hollered for our neighbor to help,” recalls Glasscock County Sheriff Keith Burnett. “My deputy got on instant messaging, saw who was working at Reagan County, sent the information over the computer, and they stopped the person and arrested him for a DWI.”
Last October, the Glasscock County Sheriff’s Office rolled out Motorola notebook computers running software from COPsync to computerize its operations. COPsync allows law enforcement to check driver’s licenses against state and national crime databases, issue electronic traffic citations and communicate car-to-car through secure IM. The information-sharing and data collection application features electronic crash reporting, standard forms for writing reports and a searchable legal reference library.
A growing number of law enforcement agencies are adopting notebook computers and mobile data collection and information-sharing software in their cars because it boosts efficiency and improves law enforcement. “By sharing information in real time, they can go into a situation with the maximum amount of knowledge, and because of that, safety can be improved,” says Shawn McCarthy, director of government vendor programs at Government Insights. “Officers have a better chance of knowing what they are facing.”
Elsewhere in Texas, every Hartley County Sheriff’s Office vehicle is equipped with a global positioning system, and through COPsync, the dispatcher can see the precise location of on-duty deputies, the direction and speed they’re driving, and the activity they are involved in. As a result, the dispatcher can immediately assign the closest available officer to handle a call, explains Hartley County Sheriff Franky Scott.
“The dispatchers love it because if they need someone, they can see where we are,” he says.
This spring, Hartley County deployed General Dynamics Itronix GD6000 notebook computers and COPsync software to its sheriff and deputies. The deputies connect to the Internet through wireless PC cards. Each sheriff’s vehicle is also outfitted with driver’s license card readers and small, mobile Brother printers.
The technology speeds up ticketing and report writing. When deputies swipe driver’s licenses on the card reader and check car registration, it automatically populates traffic citation or police reports with the driver’s information and car make and model, which cuts down the length of traffic stops, Scott says. Drop-down menus allow deputies to select the violations, which also speeds up the process.
Using cOPsync software, the Glasscock County Cheriff’s Office has reduced the time it takes to write tickets from seven to eight minutes to two minutes.
Tickets that once took 15 minutes to write out by hand now take six to eight minutes to complete electronically as Hartley County deputies scan in driver’s license information, click on an application to fill out a citation and print it out on the mobile printer, he says.
In addition, deputies are more productive because they can write their reports on the go, rather than have to return to headquarters, says Capt. Destin Wilha of Reagan County Sheriff’s Office. This allows law enforcement to spend more time protecting the community. “You can stay on the street and continue to patrol,” he says.
COPsync allows administrators to better manage their agencies. The software logs a deputy’s daily activity, from type of call received to arrival time at the scene. With every incident recorded electronically, the application allows administrators to spot trends or emerging problems and make any necessary changes, such as targeting new enforcement efforts.
“As a supervisor, I can view everyone’s activity on a daily basis, and see who’s doing their job or not, and who’s getting the brunt of the workload,” says Wilha, whose agency recently bought COPsync for its team of eight deputies and the county’s Texas Game Warden. “I have the ability to see what timeframe a lot of thefts occur, so I may need to put more officers on the street during a certain time of day.”
With all the data stored electronically, agencies can produce required reports more quickly, Wilha says. For example, Texas requires every law enforcement agency to collect the ethnic background of people they come into contact with to prove they’re not conducting racial profiling. Creating racial profiling reports used to be a weeklong process for staffers who manually checked each traffic citation for the driver’s ethnicity. Now, with everything computerized, Wilha can query the database and produce and print out a report in just minutes.
The software also improves officer safety. When a deputy checks state and national crime databases, and the driver has arrest warrants or the vehicle has been reported stolen, the software not only alerts the deputy but also other deputies nearby, so they can drive to the scene and serve as backup, Hartley County’s Scott says.
Another benefit is the ability for local jurisdictions to store information on citizens they arrest or ticket. There are small class-C misdemeanors, such as speeding tickets or public intoxication, that don’t make it into the state database, Wilha says. Neighboring jurisdictions using the same software can share the data, along with critical “be-on-the-lookout” messages, to prevent important information from slipping through the cracks.
“If I stop a car and swipe the driver’s license, I can see if he is wanted or if he made a threat to a peace officer in a county six hours away. It lets me know that I have to be careful,” Glasscock County’s Burnett adds. “It’s all about safety. The more communications and information you have, the better off you are. No one is left blind.”
Instant messaging provides law enforcement with a new way to communicate. Historically, Glasscock County Sheriff’s deputies have talked on the police radio or on their cell phones, but neither tool is perfect. Radio communications can tip off suspects who are monitoring the police scanner. Cell phone service is spotty in rural West Texas, and as calls and minutes pile up, it can become expensive.
Now, with new notebook computers and COPsync software installed in their vehicles, deputies can instant-message each other, which is private, secure and just as fast, says Glasscock County Sheriff Keith Burnett.