Sacramento County Mobile Web Services Makes Officers More Efficient

Field identification, dispatch-to-field intelligence distribution, custom equipped handheld computers and other tools help Sheriff's Department become more effective.

by / December 22, 2008

The Sacramento County Sheriff's Department is responsible for a geographical area covering 900 square miles which include both urban and rural environments. The department's fleet of vehicles includes 300 markted patrol cars and 250 unmarked patrol cars used by detectives and administrative personnel. Additionally, the department's technology office provides information technology support to 88 agencies in its region.

The cars in the Sheriff's Department are currently equipped with Panasonic Toughbooks, digital video cameras, a digital video processing unit, and a second camera to take video of the rear seat. Data travels to and from those cars on multiple networks, including a radio network supporting the voice and data needs of dispatchers. Additionally, a wireless network was built in 2006 in order to facilitate field reporting and have access to vital data in the field. A Wi-Fi network at the stations provides for large-bandwidth applications such as video upload from patrol cars.

The county went through a massive transition about two and a half years ago when it redesigned its cars, said Kevin Paltzer, applications manager, Sacramento County Sheriff's Department. The impetus for that was several things. First of all, the patrol cars were equipped with EDGE cards, later upgraded to 3G. This gave the officers access to Web based resources and other applications. Second, the state gave the county a mandate to upgrade the California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System (CLETS) bridge to improve the communication between law enforcement throughout the state. The main piece of that mandate was that all communications had to be encrypted which would have been impossible with the previous mainframe-based system. The new system uses SQL Server, Web services and secure-socket layer encryption. The computer aided dispatch system is in an isolated environment to protect it from viruses or anything else that might happen to the rest of the county law enforcement network. However, that data is replicated and distributed to the rest of the network.

"Years ago we had many disparate applications. In many cases the officer would search their favorite or the ones that they had positive experiences with," but there were a dozen different systems, Paltzer said. Currently, the county's main system is a Web-based known persons file system (known as Web KPF) including links to a mug shot system and a records management system. The county also connects to the state to access the California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System.

WebKPF is the same system with better data access, he said. This is the first system which an officer with the Sheriff's Department uses when he or she comes in contact with a person. The system can be searched with 37 different criteria, which can be entered in any combination. "If you wanted to enter first name, street name, sex -- and maybe they're a probationer --wa then you would get a multiple-hit result list. Right down the edge of the page you'll get a photo for each person. Once you've selected a person and pulled that person up then you have a wealth of information available," Paltzer said. This includes most recent photos, mug shot histories, and pictures of any scars, marks or tattoos. There's a link to the county's warrant system including who visited an inmate while he was in custody, as well as aerial imagery around their address. "A very popular feature is the lineup creator. The line up creator is a tool that allows you to build a line up [with a] particular person's photo. Those line ups are able to be used in the field to show witnesses before they begin to forget. They can actually show the person a lineup in the field immediately

after an incident. The turn around time is critical, especially when you are dealing with a fleeing suspect or evidence that may be destroyed. The ability to get from a witness who that person is--that is critical." The system also includes information on whether a person is not allowed to go near certain locations or carry firearms as a condition of their probation. Gang affiliation is another search option.

"Web KPF is the [system] that makes the difference between an arrest and a release of a wanted suspect," one Sacramento County Sheriff's deputy said about the system. "It also speeds up other investigations in the field making the difference between suspicion and probable cause while still on the call."

The next piece of mobile technology involves the CAD system. This allows users to see call activity-which are pending, which are being responded to and by which officers and who are awaiting assignment. The previous system could not do this. It wasn't even worth trying until the system became Web-based, Paltzer said. The CAD system and the WebKPF system are linked to each other.

The county's mapping application provides two pieces of value, Paltzer said. The county has actually had instances where a dispatcher can tell an officer responding to an incident there is a shed in the back of the property and, sure enough, the suspect is there. But the county also has the ability to overlay data from the WebKPF system on top of a map. This would then show the incidence of a certain type of incident with the associated suspect and their KPF data. "Each one of these systems is powerful," he said. "But together they are even more powerful."

The county has equipped parking enforcement officers with handheld devices. When the county went out in 2007 and started looking at implementing this system there were two key requirements. "They wanted to be able to take photos of not just the license plate, but also of the violation itself, which sometimes can require several photos. You have to show an angle. You have to show they're two feet away from the curb, or you have to show how close they are to a fire hydrant," Paltzer said.

However, the products on the market at the time only had the capability to take one photo of the license plate. The other thing that wasn't available was the ability to wirelessly transfer the photo back to the station. All the products required syncing via a cradle, which required returning to the station at the end of a shift. So the county built its own application where parking enforcement officers could write citations, attach multiple photos and sync wirelessly back to the station.

The Sacramento County Sheriff's office built a portal, released in July 2008, which gives signed up partners the ability to access the county's Web KPF system as well as a Web interface with CLETS.

Digital Flexibility
"Digital [information] has opened up so many opportunities for us," Paltzer said. Digital video, for example, is much easier to work with. Every video segment has a marker that indicates the video has not been tampered with. The video can also be "bookmarked" and associated with a specific event, Paltzer said. The video recording capability the Sheriff's Office provides is especially valuable in prosecuting felony cases of evading police. The video allows the prosecutor to show the jury exactly how the defendant willfully tried to avoid apprehension, he said.

What's Next?
One of the big issues the Sacramento county faces right now is suspect identification in the field. "Right now, when someone is arrested, we bring them into the jail and then we do fingerprinting and then we determine [who they are]. As good as a mug

shot is it's not perfect. And also we don't have mug shots for everybody," Paltzer said. The county needs to be able to do fingerprint identification in the field for two reasons. "One is when you're giving somebody a citation and then you release them. They never get to the jail to get fingerprinted. We don't know that it is the same person that there is a warrant outstanding on," he said.

The other reason fingerprint identification in the field is important has to do with protecting the innocent. "We often get people saying 'that's not me. That's not me. That's my brother.' And of course, when you hear it all the time, it often gets ignored. Being able to do some of this [identification] in the field saves you from--two hours later--finding out 'oh, gee you really aren't that guy.' This system allows us to detect the innocent," he said.

Another application the county is working is an online crime reporting tool which would allow off-duty officers and the public to submit crime reports using the Web.