Car 54, Where Are You?

The L.A. County Sheriffs Department developed a data-management system that tracks the activities of deputies in the field to determine the appropriate allocation of personnel.

by / May 6, 2001
Los Angeles County is the largest county in the nation. Its population of approximately 9.9 million is exceeded by only eight states.

There are 88 cities in L.A. County, covering a geographic span of 4,081 square miles. Yet 65 percent of the county -- home to a million people -- remains unincorporated. Those people and the citizens of some 40 of the 88 cities look to the men and women of the Los Angeles County Sheriffs Department -- the largest sheriffs department in the world -- for police protection.

To handle the enormous number of calls generated by such a Herculean endeavor, the sheriffs dispatch system was overhauled in the early 90s. The Mobile Digital Communications System (MDCS) that resulted allows patrol officers to receive calls and acknowledge them through a mobile digital terminal (MDT). The MDT can also query online against justice agency databases such as the Department of Motor Vehicles and the Wanted Person System.

Technology Conflicts

Unfortunately, the deployment of one tool sometimes renders another obsolete or, worse, unusable. So it was with the Mobile Digital Communications System and the original Regional Allocation of Police Services System (RAPS). RAPS is a data-management system that tracks the activities of deputies in the field for the purpose of billing contract cities and to determine the appropriate allocation of personnel.

The old RAPS system was housed on a mainframe and obtained its data from paper logs prepared by deputies. This data was used to justify additional sales of service to contract cities. The reports also helped law enforcement determine if a particular area needed more law enforcement attention.

However, according to Sergeant John Aerts, who was responsible for billing some of the contract cities, the reports were often late. "I would get the reports a month late. In May I would know that I had been 600 minutes short in a particular city [in April]."

But once MDCS eliminated the need for the paper log, those reports went from late to non-existent. Suddenly, L.A. County had no way to track deputies, gather data or compile statistics.

The solution was a program that could receive data directly from the dispatch system, store it and present it in a useful manner. The system would bear the name RAPS, the same name of the system it replaced.

David Ramirez, currently the Data Center manager for the L.A. County Sheriffs Department, was working for the county at that time as a consultant to the sheriffs department and became the main developer of the system. "We developed an application using Oracle RDBMS and tools that captured the data directly from the dispatch system," said Ramirez. "It still carries the same name, but is radically different technology."

Because it was to be an enterprise-wide system, a steering committee was appointed. Twelve RAPS coordinators were selected to serve on the steering committee, one of whom was Sgt. Aerts. Ramirez considered this an asset. "We would not have been able to do it without Johns expertise in the departments business practices ... He has a better understanding of community needs than anyone and wanted to make sure the system could provide statistics to justify the allocation of additional manpower in the communities."

Sgt. Aerts looked at RAPS as a way to make life easier. "It gives you a daily or monthly look at exactly where you are. You know if you are short and have to add cars in a particular area."

RAPS captures data from the MDCS in a download every 24 hours at 4 a.m. The data is processed and stored and available online via Oracles Forms Graphic User Interface. "It was designed," Ramirez said, "to be intuitive and totally user friendly."

There are currently about 10 years worth of data on the system. The data is up-to-date within the 24-hour timeframe that it takes to be downloaded from MDCS.

While MDCS allows for realtime inquiries, the data is only available for seven days and there is no historical record of changes to it. RAPS captures and processes all changes to the records during the seven days it is retained in MDCS.

Time Tracking

RAPS captures data such as how many times a patrol vehicle has been dispatched to a particular location and how much time deputies spend in various activities. From the moment he or she signs on to the system, the deputys time is tracked. Each time the deputy acknowledges a call or begins or ends an activity, a time stamp is created.

Wendy Harn, assistant director of Management Information Services for the sheriffs office, is a user of the system. "RAPS basically automated the Deputy Daily Log, which was a manual system of logging all deputy activities on a shift," she said. "It contains call history by location, observation activity and detail activity. Information is available by location, unit, station, call types, etc."

Once data is entered, it cannot be changed. "RAPS is a read-only system," said Ramirez. "The user has the ability to download the data onto a spreadsheet and massage it if desired. But the data within RAPS is legally binding and must reflect the original MDCS data."

Harn, whose department is responsible for reporting crime statistics, the crime analysis program and GIS, said RAPS helps the communities within the county because it "allows for more efficient monitoring of the types of service being provided and where."

She also believes it aids officer safety by providing online access to address history, so an officer knows in advance whether there have been previous problems in a particular area and whether or not back-up will be needed.

Overall, RAPS provides the Los Angeles County Sheriffs office with data showing how deputies spend their time. It also ensures the contract cities get their moneys worth, helps protect officers by providing historical information about people and places, and improves public safety by putting police protection where it is needed most.

Car 54, we found you.
Alison Sonntag Special to Government Technology