Technology Initiatives Will Revamp D.C. Policing, Chief Says

Technology Initiatives Will Revamp D.C. Policing, Chief Says

IT "plays a central role in our strategy that we now call policing for protection."

By Steve LeSueur Staff Writer

The police department in the nation's capital has unveiled a $50 million technology initiative aimed at upgrading or replacing older computer systems and getting laptop computers into every patrol vehicle.

The District of Columbia's police department already has started work on several new systems, such as 311 non-emergency calling and a crime-mapping system, and soon will release requests for proposals for three major components of the technology effort.

The new technology will "fundamentally change the way the [department] works with the community to police the district," said D.C. Police Chief Charles Ramsey, who announced the department's information technology strategy Sept. 22.

Ramsey also intends to restructure the department's IT organization to reflect its new technology strategy. One option under consideration is outsourcing some IT functions to private vendors, said Steve Gaffigan, acting chief information officer for the department.

"We are acquiring state-of-the-art technology and so need an organization that can maintain these systems in the future," said Gaffigan. He expects to deliver a draft report to Ramsey outlining his recommendations for reorganizing the IT office within three weeks.

The department has spent about $5 million thus far implementing its IT strategy, said Gaffigan.

One of the new systems that will be put into place is the Police Reporting and Information Delivery System, called PRIDE, that will maintain records of police operations, criminal histories, warrants, arrests, licenses and other information.

PRIDE will be integrated with other systems to provide up-to-date information to police personnel at all levels, eliminating much of the duplication in report writing and reducing the arrest process from three hours to under one hour.

Tied to the PRIDE system is the goal to equip police vehicles with mobile data computers, which will connect officers in the field to the department's archive of information and to national databases. In addition, officers will be able to complete administrative tasks, such as writing and submitting police reports, from the field.

"This organization is burdened unlike any other I've seen with paperwork, and this will help reduce that paperwork," said Gaffigan.

The police department has outfitted 177 cars with computers and will purchase 300 more during the next year, said Ramsey. The department hopes for a grant to buy 300 to 400 more computers to bring the total to about 800, which would be sufficient to cover the entire force of marked patrol vehicles.

The next round of computers will be bid out for competition most likely in the next three months, said Gaffigan.

The city's new 311 non-emergency call system should help improve response time to real emergencies by taking the load off the overburdened 911 system, said officials.

Approximately 75 percent to 80 percent of calls to 911 are non-emergencies that could be handled by 311 operators, said Gaffigan.

PSComm LLC of Gaithersburg, Md., is developing the 311 initiative. John Cohen, its president, is one of the original developers of the 311 emergency concept and was involved in the national 311 pilot project in Baltimore in 1996.

The new 311 system is in the final stages of testing and will be implemented in December, said officials.

In about two months, the department intends to solicit bids on three projects, said Tom McEwen, director of research for the Institute for Law and Justice, Alexandria, Va.:

?Developing an automated field reporting system to enable officers in cars and in district offices to record incident and arrest information.

?Installing a state switch that connects the department to national criminal justice systems.

?Developing portions of the PRIDE system, such as creating a records management system and the applications allowing for information sharing among different criminal justice agencies.

The total value of these three contracts will be about $2 million, said McEwen.

The department has more than six industry partners helping it implement its new IT strategy. Mitretek Systems Inc., McLean, Va., is the prime contractor overseeing the projects and is assisted by PSComm. and the Institute for Law and Justice.

GTE Public Safety of Woodbridge, Va., provides systems administration for the department and is integrating the mobile data computers and other systems; Intergraph Inc. of Huntsville, Ala. is installing a computer-aided dispatch system for the department; and Maximus Inc. of McLean is helping Gaffigan assess the staffing needs for the department's IT support.

The department's staff developed internally a crime-mapping system, called Information Retrieval for Mapping Analysis. System testing begins in October, and officials anticipate it will be implemented in all district offices by the end of the year. In the long term, the department wants the mapping system to be available to officers in the field.

An original impetus for moving to new IT systems was the department's need to make sure its older computers do not suffer year 2000 problems.

Some of the computer systems being upgraded are more than two decades old, and it was difficult to find programmers who were not dead or retired to fix them, said Ramsey.

"We're actually moving from the early '70s in many cases to the new millennium, because we have fallen so far behind the curve in technology," he said, adding, "information technology is playing and will continue to play a central role in our strategy that we now call policing for prevention."

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