Like many law enforcement agencies around the country, the Oregon State Police (OSP) is faced with funding challenges. But while a stable revenue stream would certainly help the agency upgrade and maintain its equipment, state troopers in Oregon are making the most out of the technology at its disposal.
Since July 2010, through funding provided by a federal Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grant, OSP has added 100 in-car computer systems to its fleet of 350 patrol vehicles with an additional 125 planned for roll-out in the next nine months. The Mobile Data Terminals (MDTs) have been a huge help to officers, allowing them to verify identities and share information with neighboring law enforcement agencies.
As Lt. Tom Worthy of OSP’s patrol division explained, a simple thing like having a photo to confirm someone’s driver’s license is a benefit for both officers and citizens.
“Having that ability at our fingertips is huge for our troops in the field, [as it] means the difference between taking someone’s word and actually having that confirmation,” Worthy said. “If you take someone to jail, you look at a photograph. Now you can do it right in the car.”
Albert Gauthier, OSP’s chief information officer, agreed, and stressed that while other state police forces have similar mobile data and video systems, OSP uses Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) to CAD, giving the agency the ability to connect quickly with other law enforcement departments.
“Information exchange was crucial … and … quickly bubbled up as high value for us,” Gauthier recalled. “Interconnecting all of those systems, that function and capability became core to what we were doing.”
From an efficiency standpoint, duplicative work is also being eliminated. Previously, handwritten tickets, which number 150,000-250,000 annually, were manually copied and inputted into multiple databases. Through OSP’s electronic ticketing program, when a citation is written up, that information now is being transmitted digitally to the state, allowing the agency to streamline its workflow.
In addition, through the citation and accident data complied in the system, OSP is able to examine where patrols would be more useful, increasing safety.
“It has given us empirical data about which highways we need to work … and lets us focus our resources more effectively,” Gauthier said.
Despite the agency’s advances, OSP officials are concerned that without proper funding, the efficiencies they’ve made won’t be seen. Provided for mostly by Oregon’s general fund, OSP is reaching a point where its federal grant money will run out, leaving the agency without the means to support its new technology and programs.
Gauthier said that when it comes to funding, policy makers always talk about the sheer number of officers. And while a legitimate argument, he countered that if funded properly, technology could make those troopers much more efficient.
“There is absolutely a lack of resources to develop, deploy and maintain these technologies,” Gauthier admitted. “It’s almost impossible to maintain a program like this with general fund revenue because you never know what is going to happen.”
“What we need is sufficient, reliable funding to accomplish the mission given to us,” added Worthy. “We don’t want to continually get thinner and start doing too many things and not do them well. The stakes are too high.”
Brian Heaton was a writer for Government Technology magazine from 2011 to mid-2015.