New computer system links all town police, promising increased efficiency
A new computer-aided dispatch system went on line last week, linking all six Island police departments. Police departments report that there are still a few glitches, but on the whole the system promises to make police paperwork easier and more efficient, increasing the time officers can spend on more important tasks.
Tisbury police chief John Cashin told The Times in a telephone interview that the new system "will move public safety, including EMTs and fire departments as well as police, into the 21st century."
Chief Beth Toomey of West Tisbury told The Times that a "robust" cable network already existed linking police stations. What is new is the system which allows the computers at the communications center at the airport (com center) to enter data on computers at the six Island police stations and on wireless laptops in police cars that have that capability. She commented that creating an Island-wide computer system was a difficult task, because the six Island towns have different bylaws and the six police departments have different policies to deal with six different local cultures. While it is common for a single city police department to use a computer system to coordinate among many substations, the Vineyard is one of only two places in the United States where a group of police departments share such a program. The other is in Alaska.
Detective Mark Santon, who was the system point-person for the Tisbury police department, told The Times that it took several weeks to work out the necessary adjustments for the Vineyard's unique situation. Before the system was actually put on line last week, the com center ran both systems at once for two weeks, and officers from all the towns worked at the airport to reconcile the snags that inevitably arose. The system designers wrote new code on the spot to correct problems.
Chief Toomey explained how the new system works. When the com center dispatches an officer to investigate a 911 or other call, the facts are entered into the system: the time of day, the location, the nature of the problem, the officer's name, etc. As the case unfolds and the officer reports back, more information is entered (time of police arrival at the scene, for example). The end result is that when the officer goes to write his report, all that information is already entered on the report form on his computer screen at the station, saving time and avoiding errors. Chief Cashin added that an officer with a computer in his patrol car can write his report while he remains a presence on the street and is ready to respond to other calls.
The logs of computer-assisted dispatches are available instantly to all police departments and are cross-referenced. These entries may tip off an investigator that more information is available in other towns, but the individual officers' reports must be requested and delivered as before, through hard copies or faxes from town to town. As the police chiefs work out protocols and become comfortable with the system, more sharing of data may become possible, but it will probably never be possible for an officer in, say, Chilmark to read a report written in Oak Bluffs without specific clearance.
Eventually the computer system may improve record-keeping and make statistical analysis more accurate Island-wide. At the moment, there is a problem in that different departments use different nomenclature. For example, one town might group all assault cases in one category, while another may distinguish among different types or list some kinds of assault under a different heading (such as "domestic disturbance").
Chief Toomey is hopeful that the new system will encourage Island police departments to work even more closely together than they already do.