By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Efficiency the goal in Ceres Police dispatch changes
Crime Analyst Alex Warner wont have to use outdated computer systems to keep track of all crimes in Ceres. The Ceres Police Department will soon be taking more control of Computer Aid Dispatching from the city of Turlock. - photo by Contributed to the Courier

A new Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) and records management system software package should improve the efficiency of the Ceres Police Department, according to Ceres Police Chief Brent Smith.

"It's really going to increase our technology and our efficiency in the way we serve our community," Chief Smith told the Ceres City Council last week. "It's going to make it a lot easier on our officers."

Ceres dispatches its own calls out of the Ceres Police Department headquarters on Third Street but the CAD data - also from mobile data terminals (MDTs) - is backed up on the Turlock Police Department server. The two cities partnered up in 2000 because Ceres couldn't afford the expensive HTE system in place in Turlock. Whenever Ceres needs to hook up a new computer or new programs, Ceres is at the mercy of busy Turlock IT personnel to make things happen. The new package allows Ceres to make a break with its current connection with the Turlock Police Department's dispatch center.

"This is going to benefit us because it will give us the ability to do our own stuff here using our own IT people," said Smith. "We're not going to be tied to anyone else anymore and we think that's a good thing. We've had a good relationship with Turlock forever but they're not satisfied with the system either right now."

Last week the Ceres City Council voted 5-0 to contract with Sun Ridge Systems, Inc., for $168,603 per year, to provide the package via a five-year lease to purchase the program. The contract includes $56,880 in software maintenance, support and update fees.

Councilman Mike Kline likes that Ceres won't be limited because it's tied to Turlock. For example, Ceres Police officers have been unable to use the recently purchased license plate reader because Turlock's IT staff has not been able to schedule a hookup.

"Anything that we want to do, as far as upgrades, it's all in-house and we're not having to worry about a secondary server or second service so I think this is a great addition," said Kline, "and being to move forward with the technology we need."

Existing Ceres police computer hard drives have to be replaced at a cost of $26,000 in order to use the mapping software. A dedicated server will be used to operate the system.

There is also a cost savings of about $56,000 annually in maintenance costs.

When dispatchers get a call for service, the information is entered into a computer system and goes to a number of locations before it gets to the officer. Chief Smith said the data is first sent on a T1 line to a facility in Kent, Wash., and back to the Ceres computer using Verizon or AT&T services. All the data is stored in Turlock.

"When we do get this new system we will be relying on our new city IT personnel," said Smith. "It's going to be completely separate from Turlock."

A benefit to officers include being about to write reports in the field on MDTs instead of having to use laptops or write reports in the office. Officers are now writing reports on paper. Writing reports on MDTs will be easier, Smith said, because some key information keyed in already in by the dispatcher will be auto filled into the narrative.

Information from the paper is then extracted and manually entered into the records management system by Records Division personnel. That information will also speed up the crime analysis data number crunching.

"The other issue is they don't have mapping data so it doesn't show the officer where the call is in the city or show where the officer is on a big map," said Smith. "That information is good sometimes so you get to catch the call quicker."

The new system will also streamline evidence booking. Currently officers are using different software than HTE. With the new REMS systems, an officer will have an easier to time to account for evidence taken in a case.

Alex Warner, the city's crime analyst for nearly four years, is happy to see the change coming.

"The way I look at it, with our existing system, I call it bean-counting because it is so antiquated," said Warner, who has to manually enter data onto Excel spread sheet. "It will definitely make things faster."

She said only one full-time employee in Records Division enters the data by hand.

Having officers use word processors to write reports in the field will also get personnel from having to decipher some handwritten reports.

"We have a lot of work to do and a lot of training," said Chief Smith, who said the department is hoping to switch over in February or March in 2016.

"My goal as the chief is to increase the technology and efficiency of the department so this is the first step," said Chief Smith.