Alabama Sheriffs' Departments Upgrade Computer Systems, Boost Response Times

Computer upgrades at Limestone and Morgan county facilities are expected to improve response times and record-keeping.

by Bayne Hughes, McClatchy News Service / August 13, 2014

Computer upgrades at two local emergency and law enforcement agencies are expected to improve response times, record-keeping and handling of home security alarms.

The Limestone County Sheriff's Department's new computer-aided dispatch system went online this past weekend as part of a $230,000 information technology upgrade project.

Morgan County 911 became the first in the state and the seventh in the nation Friday to implement a home-security alarm feature as part of its computer-aided dispatch system.

Ryan Welty, director of Morgan County 911, said the new $12,000 feature, called Automated Secure Alarm Protocol, eliminates the need for an operator with the home security company to notify his agency that an alarm has sounded.

"The technology allows a direct transmission from the alarm to our system, which eliminates 1 to 11/2 minutes required for a voice phone call," Welty said.

Welty said this system is particularly helpful during a thunderstorm such as the one in Decatur on Sunday. Thunder often causes a home security alarm to go off.

"The dispatcher can concentrate on emergency calls instead of answering phone calls from alarm companies," he said.

Welty said home security companies pay a message broker to be a part of the new system. Monitronics is the first alarm company to join Morgan County's system.

Limestone's new system records the information, address and telephone number of the caller, and places a time stamp on the call. By eliminating the need to write this information by hand, every call should be dispatched within 45 seconds or less, said Paul Cain, IT director for the sheriff's department.

"This will allow the dispatcher to help get the deputy to the right place in a more timely matter," Cain said. "It saves time by not having to write down the information."

A survey of the area shows Limestone County is the last of the sheriff's departments in Morgan and Lawrence counties to add a computer-aided dispatch system.

"With as many calls as we deal with, I would think you have to have a CAD system," said Lawrence County Sheriff Gene Mitchell, who added a CAD system about five years ago.

Limestone County Sheriff Mike Blakely said a lot of bigger law enforcement departments already have CAD, but some smaller departments do not.

"We've been working on our system for four years because we wanted one that's tied into our records management system and is specifically designed for us," Blakely said.

Welty said his agency's system has been connected with Morgan County's CAD system for about 10 years.

Lawrence County is the only one of the three E-911 agencies that doesn't have a CAD system.

"I think some 911 agencies and sheriff's departments have a CAD system while others are still converting," Lawrence County 911 Director Tammy Benson said. "It's just a matter of the cost, and our county getting its money straight."

R.V. White, director of Athens-Limestone County 911, said his agency will upgrade to a second CAD system for $170,000 by the end of the year.

"We've had a CAD system for about six years," White said. "It's a long process to change systems because you have to convert your files and records and train the employees to use the new system."

Cain said he worked with Application Data Systems Inc. of Southaven, Mississippi, to develop the Limestone County system.

A big part of the delay has been saving data collected on a previous system, Cain said.

A part of Limestone County's project is the addition of vehicle location on patrol vehicles for real-time monitoring as they respond to calls.

Dispatchers will know which deputies are closest to the incident through the vehicle locator, Blakely said.

"Now they have to radio deputies to find out where they are," Blakely said. "We haven't tracked response times, but this should get deputies to the scene much faster."

Blakely said the new system also will allow him to improve efficiency as he tracks deputies' work.

Mobile data terminals will be added to the cars so deputies can file their reports from the field.

Cain said another asset to the system is it will create a master name index, which will help investigators and deputies serving civil papers and warrants.

"In the past, we had to do two queries to see if a person had a civil or criminal background," Cain said. "A dispatcher or investigator will see at one glance any association the department has had with a person."

Blakely said this could save lives because deputies will know what or who they're dealing with before arriving on the scene.

©2014 The Decatur Daily (Decatur, Ala.)