DIGGING DEEPER: The benefits of new police technology
SIOUX CITY (KTIV) -
Technology has come a long way since many of us grew up when radio dispatching was the most technically advanced way to get you help.
Now, in the 21st century, a high tech dance between caller, dispatcher and officer takes place every time you call for help.
A perfect example would be in Sioux City on Monday, February 6th.
"Running northbound in that alley. Adam five. Where's he at?," said Kevin Erickson, a Sioux City Police Officer.
Two people decided to make a run for it during a traffic stop.
To Erickson, it was just a normal day protecting the streets of Little Chicago.
But exactly how did he know where to go?
It all began at the communications center.
"This is 911. Where's your emergency," said dispatcher Eric.
His voice could be the first one you hear when you need help.
Now, thanks to mobile technology, he can get an officer on the way to you before he ever hangs up the phone.
"We generally have four or five dispatchers on duty and as we take the calls, we enter the information into the computer and then based upon the address of the call, the computer knows where that should be routed, whether it's to a Sioux City Police Officer, a Sioux City fire engine, and we dispatch those calls both over the radio and in Sioux City and Woodbury County over mobile data computers that are in the squad cars," said Wendi Hess, manager for the Woodbury County Communications Center.
The Mobile Data Browser, or MDB is how the information from Eric reaches each Sioux City Police Officer as they patrol the streets.
The display of the MDB shows what the call is, the address and the priority.
"Because we have multiple dispatchers on duty, one dispatcher may be on the phone taking the information from the caller and at the same time, another dispatcher is dispatching the call out to the ambulance or the police officer," said Hess.
This brings us back to Erickson's traffic call.
Erickson and KTIV reporter Tiffany Lane were on their way to the scene where the two people ran away during the traffic stop.
While on the way, thanks to the information on the MDB, they knew quickly that they were no longer on the run.
"It'll show you one in custody and then the second one's in custody," said Erickson said of the MDB display showing.
By not having to go all the way to the scene to find that out, the MDB frees up valuable time and man hours that can quickly add up.
Dispatchers at the Woodbury County Communications Center get up to 25,000 calls a month, at least 17,000 of which need law enforcement officials to be dispatched.
With as many calls as the police department has to respond to, the MDB helps prioritize calls by their importance level.
"We've got red, that's a priority one, like the fight that we went to." said Erickson of the MDB display. "We've got the greens and then we've got yellow. The blues aren't really important. Those just kind of tell you if you've got a phone message or we have off-duty officers that are working security."
During the ride, Erickson and Tiffany knew to go to an alleged gang fight because that came up as a priority call on the call list in the computer.
They also responded to a hit and run.
That is where high tech came in play again.
Erickson used a program called Traffic Reporting and Criminal Software, or TRACS to file the report.
"This is basically what we'd have to fill out by hand," said Erickson. "But this, especially with scanning on the back of your driver's license. So, if you have your driver's license out and you look at that scan right there, we can scan that and all your information that's on the front of your driver's license will go into the computer system. It's the same way if we're writing you a citation or anything like that."
Another piece of technology the police department uses is the video viewer. You can hear everything that's said through a body microphone and there's a camera on the windshield of the car. There's also a camera in the back of the car. They are used to document the police department's interaction with the public.
"Anything that would happen would be documented visually," said Sgt. Mike Manthorne, of the Sioux City Police Department. "So if there were any altercation or anything that happened, during that traffic contact, it would all be recorded."
The recording would begin anytime an officer turns it on, once the vehicle passes a certain speed or if the emergency lights are turned on.
If that happens and they need to respond to a call, they can rely on another piece of mobile high tech to get to the location quickly.
It's the Mobile Architecture for Communications Handling program, or MACH.
It shows not only where your police car is, but also where all other law enforcement vehicles are at any given time throughout Iowa.
And, it can help you get to your destination faster.
"We are represented by this little bump," said Erickson of a MACH display. "It says my employee number, my name, what vehicle I'm driving, so police SUV. So you can see exactly where I'm at. It also shows where other officers are at. So, say there's a priority call and the officer's not answering up, we can look at this system to find out where their vehicle's at. And that's kind of a helpful tool in case of an emergency situation."
But information wasn't always this easy to access when dealing with police calls.
Sgt. Mike Manthorne has been with the Sioux City Police Department for 22 years and says the technology now makes responding to calls more efficient.
"When we first started, our computers were capable of doing mostly dispatching," he said. "So we could get calls, get information regarding calls. And that was pretty much what it was limited to to start out with."
So what's next for mobile technology and law enforcement?
"I think the advancement in tablets, you're going to see more and more officers being able to take reports directly onto a tablet based system that they can remove from the squad car and actually do a lot of their work, while they're speaking with the complainant or victim," said Manthorne.
It's another way that Erickson and other officers will be able to keep residents safe as they continue patrolling the streets of Sioux City.
Officials say the computer and cameras in each squad car cost about $4,000 total.
They also pay for additional data storage for some of the programs they use.
They say, there is definitely the additional cost benefit when you look at how much more efficiently they can handle calls.