Future Enhancements

By John McCormick  |  Posted 2002-09-09 Print this article Print

Online exclusive: New York Police Department Deputy Inspector Charles Dowd, the commanding officer of the NYPD's communication division, is very proud of his operation and the more than 1,000 civilian and sworn personnel in his charge. And while th

Future Enhancements

Dowd says the department and HP have just started planning the new dispatch system, so it's too early to say what the capabilities of the new system will be or what features it will offer.

But computer-aided dispatching systems already deployed in many big-city police departments, such as Baltimore and Philadelphia, often allow officers to quickly and easily access state and federal vehicle and want-and-warrant databases. And most systems provide officers responding to an address with a list of known hazards and prior incidents.

Not only does this increase officer safety—since they know what they're getting into before they arrive on the scene—but also alerts cops to keep an eye out for things. For example, if the address had previous firearm complaints, the cops could be on the lookout for illegal pistols or rifles, which might get a few more guns off the street.

In a move related to the computer-aided dispatch system, the NYPD is planning to equip cars with Panasonic Toughbook laptops. One thing Dowd would like to see is a feature in the new dispatch system that would allow officers to make reports on in-car computers and, as soon as the reports are complete, to transmit them electronically to precinct commanders and detective bureaus. In the case of a burglary, for instance, cops with laptops could file a report to a detective who could immediately begin an investigation. Burglary reports are now filled out on paper and sometimes not entered into a record system for a day and a half.

Dowd, who was a lieutenant in a detective unit, knows the importance of speed. One of the things a detective squad command learns, he says, "is that accurate information, gotten to you as quickly as possible, in the early stages of an investigation, is always critical. You can't underestimate the value of that."

As time passes, for instance, witnesses don't remember things as clearly, or, worse, can't be located again.

Another advantage: If the officer enters a complaint or incident report there's less of a chance that information will be incorrectly typed in to a system by a data entry staffer working off an officer's typed written reports.

"In the normal course of any business, a certain amount of information is accurate or inaccurate. You just deal with that. Clearly, the quicker you get the information the easier it is to make determinations as to what's accurate or inaccurate. So, it's the speed that is the ultimate goal," he says.

The new system also would help 911 operators do their job better. In computer-aided dispatch systems, emergency call-takers sit at screens that prompt the operator to ask a series of questions as information is input into the system. With a burglary in progress, for instance, Dowd says a system will pop up lists of questions to be asked—such as whether a weapon is involved.

Still, as Sept. 11 proved, no system and no training will prepare 911 operators for every emergency. But Dowd is confident his people are up to any challenge and will rise to any occasion, as they did that Tuesday morning. "They job they did was just incredible," he says. "They handled some tremendously difficult calls."


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