When Edmonton, Alberta, Constables Barry Harris and Joe Dosramos approached the door of a domestic disturbance call last January, they were armed with more than just the address. The door was ajar, and rather than just walking up and knocking, the two officers stood aside -- a move that probably saved their lives.

THE CALL COMES IN

When the call came in to the Edmonton dispatch center, the enhanced system displayed an icon indicating prior calls to that address. The call history showed six previous calls, four for family violence and two for a missing juvenile. In addition, a male occupant had threatened the responding officers.

The call taker immediately relayed this information verbally to the two constables, and the data also appeared on the Mobile Data Terminal in their

patrol car.

The dispatcher then moved his cursor across the Windows NT interface and called up the incident address in Canada's firearms registry. He discovered there were weapons registered to the occupant, and relayed this information to Harris and Dosramos.

Armed with this information, the two officers were cautious. "We didn't stand in front of the door," said Harris, "which was quite nice, because -- ka boom! -- he shot at us with his rifle." The incident continued with a 16-hour standoff and ended with the suicide of the suspect. No one else was injured or killed. "I was pretty glad we had that extra information available," said Harris.

TORONTO HOLDUP

When an armored car was robbed in Toronto, a newly operational dispatch system provided another type of crucial information to pursuing officers. The robbery occurred near the boundary of several different police jurisdictions. When the suspects abandoned their vehicle and fled onto the grounds of a sprawling golf course, officers found themselves in unfamiliar territory.

Back at the dispatch station though, the entire incident was managed by personnel using a mapping feature of their automated dispatch system.

"Our people really didn't know the rolling topography of the golf course very well," said Richard Coulis, staff sergeant and acting inspector with the Metropolitan Toronto Police. "But the dispatcher could see all the roads, cart trails, creeks and even the water hazards right on her computer screen." Because of the mapping system, the dispatcher was able to place officers at possible escape routes and direct officers even as they pursued the suspects on foot.

"An officer would be running along and say to the dispatcher, 'I'm going to turn and head west up this hill,' and she'd answer, 'No, don't do that. There is a creek up there and you won't be able to get across,'" said Coulis, who added that the majority of the suspects were apprehended right on the golf course. "The information we had was so thorough that our officers returning to the station asked, 'Where were the video cameras?' With an old-fashioned paper map this kind of incident management would be impossible."

INFORMATION AUTOMATION

The systems in use in Edmonton and Toronto were designed and installed by Intergraph Corp., based in Huntsville, Ala. Information is accessed through a user-friendly Windows NT interface, and can be customized by each department to keep track of call history for varying periods of time.

"Many departments have similar systems, but most are tied to only one database at a time," said Sergeant Keith Whitton, communications support supervisor with the Edmonton Police Service. "We can access information from the Canadian Police Information Center (CPIC), which gives us information on wants, warrants and stolen vehicles, the Operational Support Communications and Records System, an incident database linked to other national, provincial and municipal databases, and the Computer Aided Dispatch system (CAD), which handles call history. We also have direct links to the city utilities database and the