Shared Connection

This created a serious challenge for the MPSIS because typically everything that goes with encrypted data gets encrypted, said Brian Irish, CipherOptics' marketing director.

To deal with the problem, CipherOptics implemented two separate virtual local area networks (VLANs) using encryption, Irish said. This capability wasn't always available. "In the past, encryption and VLANs have been like oil and water," he said.

The solution gave Prough what he was looking for - the power to dictate which data gets encrypted, he said. "This deployment has been a great example of how municipalities can get security as they transmit data in a way that works for them," Irish said.

Implementation of the encryption onto the network was a snap for Prough. CipherOptics talked Prough through the software configuration, and he did the work himself. Prough said he's had no trouble making encryption modifications to the wireless paths, even when operating from a remote location.

The simplicity of the system and additional savings, especially on the operational side, have made the encryption solution valuable to the MPSIS, Prough said.

The entire wireless system cost approximately $200,000, with the encryption portion about $35,000 of that total, said Fitchburg Chief of Police Thomas Blatter. The MPSIS received more than $1.1 million in federal grant money since 2004, which played a big role in implementing the joint software and recent upgrades. U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, played a key role in landing those grants, Blatter said.

"The federal government can provide valuable financial and moral support by encouraging and assisting this type of inter-community cooperation for the public good," Baldwin's spokeswoman said.

Consortium Formation

The MPSIS was originally formed in late 2003 to tackle the issue of replacing three aging records management systems.  

Other software items were included in the original project, including police dispatch software (Global Dispatch) and mobile data software (Global mReach), which together were "pretty inclusive of what police departments need on a daily basis," Prough said.

The records management system, Global Justice, took time to roll out because of the difficulty of converting data from the three separate systems, said Phil Sisk, president of Global Software Corp., MPSIS's software provider.

The result was worth it. The records management system, which was in full use by November 2005, is central to the police departments' functions, Prough said. The system shares and stores incident, accident, citation, arrest and evidence information from the three departments - it basically gives officers more information to fight crime, Sisk said.

The availability and accessibility of information helps officers do more in the car (on squad car computers), and they don't have to enter data twice. "These communities deal with the same issues and often the same people," Sisk said. "They have a better picture of whom and what they are dealing with when they share this type of information."

While the founding goal of the MPSIS was to purchase and implement a shared records management system, the objective naturally progressed; the cities looked into other components that fit within the joint framework and its existing systems, Prough said.

For example, the trio purchased a digital dictation system, municipal court software and fingerprint identification technology - all woven into the records management system.

Prough said the collaborative framework gives the cities access to new technologies and services that would've otherwise been unattainable. It also encouraged the police departments to join forces in other areas like training.

A key part of working together, Prough said, is to give all cities a say, but let no single city have too much control.  

However, democratizing the process has its downside.  

"Any changes they wanted to make had to be voted on and agreed to by the group as a whole," Prough said, "but it can work if you can work through that - the consolidation can be very successful."

A future goal of the MPSIS is to provide some data access to the public, such as the locations and types of service calls the departments receive.

The MPSIS is also open to the idea of other police departments coming on board. The MPSIS's high-speed wireless network and encryption upgrades are tailored to be flexible and scalable.

Prough put it this way: "Since everybody is doing it the same way, it makes sense to build that out a little further."

Jessica Hughes  |  Contributing Writer

Jessica Hughes is a regular contributor to Government Technology and Emergency Management magazines.