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Police, sheriff’s office unify reports

Andy Ouriel • Aug 27, 2014 at 3:04 PM

Erie County-based police and fire departments can keep their distinct uniforms, vehicles and patches.

But a local law enforcement breakthrough aims to conform the way each agency produces and archives records.

The Erie County Sheriff’s Office on Thursday debuted a universal reporting system after months of researching and troubleshooting.

Any agency participating in Erie County’s regional dispatching operation, located in the sheriff’s office, now uses this common system for chronicling 911 calls.

The participating agencies include the fire and police departments in Sandusky, Huron and Perkins Township.

The system offers two main benefits: consistency in appearance and enhanced search capabilities:    Aesthetic appeal

The look of Perkins police reports, for instance, greatly varied from Sandusky police reports.

But now, the reports look the same.

The only differences? A singular agency’s name and corresponding logo appears on the front page, distinguishing which department produced a report.

“We were not all on the same software program” Erie County Sheriff Paul Sigsworth said. “Perkins was on one. Sandusky was on another. Fire departments weren’t even on one. But we now have one system for everyone”

Crime searching

Sigsworth offered the following scenario to explain how this system could benefit local law enforcers and community members.

“If I can run John Smith, for instance, on a sheriff’s system, I can see on one search that Sandusky dealt with him twice last week, Perkins dealt with him a month ago and Huron dealt with him six months ago,” Sigsworth said. “That wasn’t possible before, as I would have to look at each department’s individual records for this information”

Local law enforcers previously needed to make several calls or radio in requests to obtain this information.

But now, with the database launching, officials can just type someone’s name, address or other pertinent information into a search to access data they need when solving crimes or pressing charges. A new system will automatically archive these reports, creating a massive database for records management.

“To have that information at my fingertips is very valuable,” Perkins police Chief Ken Klamar said.

Klamar also provided his own example, claiming the system can come in handy for a suspicious man lurking in a used car lot.

“We might have never dealt with him, but two nights ago, Sandusky, Huron or Erie County could have written a report about this same person breaking into a car,” Klamar said. “The person can say ‘I’m just passing through,’ but we see he was charged with breaking and entering there. If we wanted this before, we’d have to call or radio the name in”

The new system also allows dispatchers, officers and firefighters to attach photographs, images of evidence or other visuals onto reports.

All reports are public records, meaning anyone can request one.

“Consolidating the record management system and having regionalized dispatch gives us an all-inclusive picture of emergency response within the county,” said Tim Jonovich, Erie County’s emergency management director.

Not every person, however, supports the new platform.

“I’m not in favor of this system,” Huron police Chief Robert Lippert said. “I think $1 million is too much for the stuff that is working fine now, in my opinion”

Technology boost

A uniform records management system in Erie County circles back to a multi-tiered effort in improving area 911communications.

In the fall, Erie County commissioners approved a six-year, $1.15 million purchase for updated 911 equipment.

The initiative includes:

• Streamlining information shared among police officers and firefighters.

• Improving tracking abilities when pinpointing a 911 caller’s location.

• Tracking the whereabouts of all emergency vehicles, which would reduce response times.

• Accepting text messages, photos, and videos from cell phones when someone wants to send such items to dispatchers or emergency personnel.

Most of the funding derives from a tax or surcharge tacked onto bills for cellular and landline phone services.

The remaining costs will likely be covered by local police and fire departments contracting with the Erie County Sheriff’s Office to provide emergency dispatching services.

It’s estimated a uniform records management system could save roughly $300,000 during the contact’s six-year life. The savings results from various agencies together using one system as opposed to before when each department contracted for its own system, staffing and maintenance.

Detailing dispatching

Q: How does regional dispatch work in Erie County?

A: Regional dispatch brings together 911 dispatchers from across the area — in this case, Erie County — to communicate for multiple police and fire departments.

The dispatchers collaborate as one entity inside the Erie County Sheriff’s Office, rather than serve a single political subdivision from various locations. A few years ago, most political subdivisions employed their own dispatchers for police or fire services. Now most dispatchers in Erie County are county employees, working together in one dispatching hub at the sheriff’s office. The operation has improved communication as well as helped to reduce response times.

Q: What police and fire departments in Erie County participate in regional dispatch?

A: There are several:

• Police and security: Sandusky, Huron, Castalia, Bay View, Kelleys Island, Perkins Township, Erie County Sheriff’s Office and Erie MetroParks.

• Fire: Sandusky, Huron, Bay View, Kelleys Island and the townships of Groton, Margaretta, Perkins and Vermilion.

Q: How does it work?

A: Let’s say, for instance there’s a car crash at Venice Road and Tiffin Avenue in Sandusky. The 911 calls coming into the dispatching center are answered by the first available county dispatcher.

The first dispatcher can directly handle the call or ask a second dispatcher to send out responders from nearby areas — Sandusky police and fire, Margaretta fire, Bay View police, among others — while the first one stays on the line to gather more information and field other calls.

In the old setup, dispatchers were all at different buildings across the county, and they’d have to transfer calls to each other.

Anywhere from four to six dispatchers work at one time.

Participating communities have touted the program’s efficiencies, and it has also lowered dispatching costs.

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