Police agencies across Columbia County on board with technology upgrade
Local police say they are largely overcoming the initial hurdles that came with a major records system overall.
All police departments and the sheriff’s office in Columbia County switched records management software May 7.
“The transition went better than any of us could have hoped for,” said Columbia County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Matt Menard, who played a leading role in the transition.
The sheriff’s office and police departments countywide are now collectively using Spillman software, which allows for more immediate sharing of information and data between departments and offices.
“We’re capturing a lot more information,” said Columbus Police Chief Dennis Weiner. “Everybody is learning a little bit from everybody else.”
Various departments in neighboring Dodge County also use Spillman, which Weiner said makes it much easier and faster for authorities in both counties to access one another’s records when responding to calls.
The software shift was triggered after TriTech — the prior contractor for the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office — announced it would discontinue maintenance on its public safety systems.
County authorities decided to switch providers rather than risk bigger problems if their system were to unexpectedly crash.
“We were kind of forced into it,” said Columbia County Sheriff Roger Brandner. “It was a complete and total redo.”
All data from the prior system was able to be saved in the software conversion, which Brandner said was fortunate.
Brandner said Menard, jail sergeant Brian Kjorlie and emergency dispatch sergeant Elisabeth Schutz led the software change and trained fellow officers and staff.
The Portage Police Department was one of several local law enforcement agencies that was given an option to jump on board the county’s new system free of charge.
Portage Assistant Police Chief Keith Klafke said this will save the local department $9,000 every year that had previously been spent on their prior contractor, Omnigo.
“There were growing pains, but all in all, I’m happy with the new system and the capabilities of it,” Klafke said. “The sharing of information is monumental.”
Residents won’t see much of a difference in most police responses, Brandner said, although traffic stops might take a couple extra minutes as deputies and officers continue to learn new features of the system.
Weiner said citizens also might notice police officers parked around town more often, as they are able to input data from the field instead of having to run to the station every time. This saves time and paper, he said.
Brandner added response times will be quicker on emergency calls as authorities will have access to more reliable information much faster.
“This is a direct public safety tool, and we need that. That’s very beneficial, especially when responding to critical incidents,” Brandner said.
Brandner said his office will likely use Spillman for 20 years, and he believes the daily operations and investigations will be more efficient and consistent.
The benefits for law enforcement officers are numerous, Menard said.
For example, the responsibility for inputting data is now spread out among officers and secretaries alike.
With faster access to information, Columbia County Sheriff’s Office clerical staff member Shanna Breneman said the new system allows her to complete more reports every day.
Updating citizens’ contact information, their addresses and submitting detailed notes to the district attorney’s office are all easier now due to greater access to information, Menard said.
The system could allow fire departments and EMS teams to jump on board as well, Menard said.
Emergency dispatchers can stay tuned in real time as officers gradually update information while responding to calls. This reduces radio and scanner traffic.
“In the old system, they didn’t see that. If they didn’t hear it on the radio, they didn’t know it,” Menard said. “The things I see and do, (now) they’re seeing and doing.”
Another benefit to the Spillman system is patrol officers can notify jail staff ahead of time if they’re bringing an uncooperative person to the jail and whether additional staff is necessary, Menard said.
Kjorlie added he appreciates that Spillman makes it easier to train new deputies or jailers because it has a practice system that’s separate from its live records, so new staff can learn the system without worrying about consequences of mistakes.
“Any time we can get more information about someone coming in, we can have these officers ready,” Kjorlie said. “It’s very intuitive. It’s easy to move through. It makes sense.”