Computer-assisted dispatching implemented countywide

October 24, 2018 GMT

Law enforcement, fire and ambulance agencies will be able to communicate more effectively under a new system launched in Scotts Bluff County Tuesday.

Scotts Bluff County agencies, including Scottsbluff Police, Gering Police and the Scotts Bluff County Sheriff’s Department, all implemented a new computer-assisted dispatch and record management systems. The new system brings together all of the agencies on the same system, including the Scotts Bluff County Detention Center and the Scotts Bluff County Communications Center.

It was an extensive process to get to implementation of the system, Scottsbluff Police Chief Kevin Spencer and Capt. Brian Wasson said.

The computer-assisted dispatch system is the system that dispatchers use to take calls from the public and dispatch officers, everything from the call coming in to the voice recording of the call.

“It’s all encompassing,” Spencer said.

The records management system is the system used by police agencies to track calls for services and investigations. The departments keep records for statistical and other reasons.

Movement to a new system began with the Scottsbluff Police Department, Spencer said. After implementing a record management system, the department was dissatisfied with the system.

“I wanted to pull the plug on it (the previous records management system) within the first six months,” Spencer said.

The department found that updates to the system made previous, useful features unusable and other difficulties. Initially, the department only wanted to replace the records management system and the Scottsbluff Police Department started setting aside funds to be able to navigate to a new system.

As Scottsbluff began looking into the process, Spencer said he found others were interested.

“Everyone was dissatisfied with the previous records management system,” he said.

The further Scottsbluff got into the project, he said, it just made sense to bring the other agencies into the project. Discussions began in meetings of the Scotts Bluff County Combined Communications Advisory Board, which is made up of representatives from the cities and agencies that contribute to the operation of the consolidated communications center. A subcommittee from that board was formed and oversaw the process.

Extensive research was done, with requests from proposals sought and 10 software providers submitted. Those were narrowed down to four software providers, which were invited to give demonstrations to the group tasked with overseeing the project. Project leaders and members then traveled to Gillette, Wyoming; Rapid City, South Dakota; and Leavenworth, Kansas, to see systems operating at agencies firsthand for onsite evaluation. Afterward, Zuercher was identified as the preferred provider and contract negotiations began. In March 2018, the Scotts Bluff County Commissioners approved a contract with Zuercher, agreeing to purchase the software and maintenance. Scotts Bluff County Communications Director Ray Richards estimated that more than a half-million has been invested into the project on the county level.

Wasson, who served as project manager, said it was “a lot of getting the right people to the right people type of stuff,” but Spencer said the process was extensive, from determining what tablets and peripherals would be used in the cars to other details.

The new system has features that will be beneficial to all the agencies, from the largest, like the Scottsbluff Police Department, to the smaller departments, like Lyman Police Department

The Zuercher system is countywide.

“Every law enforcement agency within the county, except for the Nebraska State Patrol, is using the same software,” Spencer said.

All of the local agencies will be able to interact in the current system, able to see calls that officers with other agencies are on or view reports that other agencies have taken. The Scotts Bluff County Detention Center is also on the system.

“When someone dials 911, a screen pops up (in the communications center), and it starts a call for service, to include a map now to show the caller’s location. It’s very extensive and very powerful,” Spencer said.

The interoperability of the system is one of the key advantages.

“One of the initial discussions was that each agency has to make phone calls and request records when there are solutions like this one that allow officers to get the information they need at the touch of a screen,” Wasson said. “Officers can get information about a subject, warn each other of potentially dangerous situations. We couldn’t do that before without phones, faxes, and this will be at their fingertips.”

Initially, Wasson said, officials weren’t looking at adding the jail to the system or even looking at implementing a mobile system. However, he said, as they narrowed down on Zuercher and its capabilities,“It just made perfect sense. It is so integrated and it would take steps away from the dispatcher, the officer and the jailer to all three be touching the same record. The data that they enter is shared among the whole group.”

The system reduces a lot of duplication among agencies. When an officer runs someone at a scene, Wasson said, they create a report automatically. The jail can use that record to book that person into jail, if that is how the call goes, or the officer can use it to issue a citation. Previously, each agency handling a record, from arrest to reports, entered the information separately for their needed functions. The new system will improve efficiencies among all the agencies, Wasson and Spencer said.

Wasson said the mobile piece of the system is what excites him the most. Officers will be able to scan a driver’s license, scan a registration, run queries for warrants and issue electronic citations.

The system also allows agencies to comply with new E-citation guidelines, requiring agencies that write more than 500 citations a year to issue citations electronically by Jan. 1, 2020. Agencies were able to apply for funds through the Nebraska Crime Commission and more than $72,000 in funds was awarded to Scotts Bluff County agencies to help with the transition to the new mobile system. With it cost about $6,800 to outfit a car for mobile capabilities, including Wi-Fi in each vehicle, the grants provided some significant help to agencies to transition to the new system.

Wasson also praised the work of Chance Florke, former information technology for Scotts Bluff County, and Suzie Wick, GIS director, in the project.