Brazos County sheriffs and  constables operate a fleet of  80 vehicles with  priority access through FirstNet. •

Q&A: Brazos County, Texas, Sheriff Embraces 21st Century Public Safety Tech

The local sheriff's department shares its experience with the FirstNet dedicated public safety broadband network.

Brazos County, Texas, got its first glimpse into the future in 2010. Police Sgt. Josh Hearen attended a demonstration for the nation’s first public safety broadband network in neighboring Harris County, a First Responders Network Authority (FirstNet) Early Builder. 

“Josh planted the seed here that maybe we could work off that core antenna and test some of the devices,” recalls Brazos County Sheriff Chris Kirk. Harris County loaned them six devices, and the test proved successful. Within a few years, Brazos County was operating on band class 14 — the public safety spectrum — and continued until November 2017, when Texas opted into FirstNet. “We started the project the week of Thanksgiving,” says Kirk, and they haven’t looked back. 

StateTech recently spoke with Kirk and Hearen about their experiences transitioning to and using FirstNet.

STATETECH: Can you think of a case that went more smoothly because of the network?

HEAREN: There was a fraud case at the tax office. An individual came in from Houston to register and title a vehicle in Brazos County, and the vehicle was listed as stolen. The tax office called our nonemergency dispatch line, and the patrol lieutenant was able to remote into the tax office cameras from his vehicle, actually get his eyes on the suspects that were in the building and watch them through the IP cameras while the officers responded. He was able to direct the responding officers to exactly where they needed to be to apprehend the stolen vehicle. 

STATETECH: Do you have any future plans now that you’re using FirstNet?

KIRK: Our challenge now is to bring on all the other first responders, which is a slow process. We have it for all the sheriff’s office and constable cars. Our police departments have engaged and are working toward it. The fire department has added it to their regional command center bus, so if we have a major event in another community outside of the county, then that bus is brought out. Slowly, we hope to bring on all the first responders. 

Brazos County Sheriff
Photo: Courtesy of Brazos County Sheriff's Office 
Christoper Kirk, Brazos County Sheriff 

STATETECH: Did you make any major changes to prepare for the shift to FirstNet?

KIRK: As the sheriff, I’m serving in my sixth term — 22 years to date. My campaign centered around the fact that I was going to be a sheriff for the 21st century, so we’ve embraced technology here at the sheriff’s office. In 2006, we installed Panasonic Arbitrator and laptops and cameras in our cars. We’ve been working with  Panasonic on wearable cameras since 2010, and now we’re into Generation 3 wearable cameras. We had all that in place, so when LTE technology and FirstNet band class 14 came along, it was a whole lot easier for us just to plug that in and work with it. Somebody that doesn’t have that technology in place has to start putting it in place, because band class 14 is real. It will be the future of communications for first responders. 

MORE FROM STATETECH: Find out how 5G network slicing technology can benefit public safety. 

STATETECH: Do you have any advice for agencies considering FirstNet?

HEAREN: Plan ahead and bring all the stakeholders to the table. I think that’s why we were so successful. Get a dedicated person to work on the project. Have discussions with your IT department. The people paying the bill — your funding source or governing body — need to be brought in so that they understand the benefit of it. Is it going to be a cost-savings benefit to you? Is it something that’s going to provide additional services for the government, for the people that it serves? Those people need to know that as well, that you’re not just trying to jump on the bandwagon because it’s the next cool thing that’s out there. 

KIRK: We’re really pleased with the support that we get from AT&T, and the system works for us. I would encourage anybody in public safety — first responders — to seriously consider moving in that direction.

First Responder Network Authority
Apr 12 2019

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