By Claire Withycombe • The Bulletin
Bend Police Officer Don Barber didn’t know where NW Bryce Canyon Lane was.
It was about 4:45 p.m. Thursday and a request to check someone’s welfare came in through dispatch. All Barber knew off the top of his head was that the address was in northwest Bend.
Driving on NW Newport Avenue by Broken Top Bottle Shop, he stopped to pull out his iPhone to plug the address in to Google Maps.
“It’s on the other side of the butte,” he said, with a hint of chagrin. After 12 minutes of driving in the snow, iPhone in one hand, he arrived.
Barber’s no newbie: He was a dispatcher with the county for four years, and in the 11 years he has been on the police force, Bend’s population has grown from about 67,000 to just over 84,000, according to the latest estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau.
A slew of new housing developments has made it challenging for him and other officers to memorize the smaller, more whimsically named streets in the outer reaches of the city, he says. Chardonnay Lane, Hufflepuff Court, Chuckanut Drive — the list goes on.
A mapping program embedded in the software police use when they receive calls and communicate with dispatch could make navigating efforts easier, and likely safer, Bend Police Chief Jim Porter says, by showing officers exactly where they need to go off the bat.
A minute that an officer uses to pull over on the side of the road to plug in an address she’s not familiar with into a separate program is another minute that a person in need of police services has to wait.
But the current dispatch system doesn’t have that capability, Porter says.
All law enforcement agencies in Deschutes County have access to two major computer systems in their patrol cars: computer-aided dispatch, which prints the calls on mobile digital terminals, and another system for writing, storing and retrieving incident reports and other records.
The software dispatch uses to record information about a call and tell officers where they need to go is different from the software officers use to write, store and retrieve reports and other records.
Three years ago, all public safety agencies in Deschutes County transferred to a new records management system under New World Systems. Having a universal system for records management has been a benefit, stakeholders say, allowing agencies to readily share information.
It’s possible the two systems — respectively referred to as computer-aided dispatch and records management systems — will soon be integrated by switching entirely over to the software used for records management.
According to Deschutes County 911 Executive Director Steve Reinke, getting the two systems on the same platform has been part of the 911 Service District’s strategic plan since he joined the agency in late 2014.
It’s now a matter of evaluating what single software could perform both functions best. The county’s computer aided dispatch is run by a company called Hitech Systems.
Deschutes County 911 dispatches for the sheriff’s office, police departments in Bend, Black Butte Ranch, Redmond, Sunriver and other agencies.
In recent months, Bend police officers have encountered issues with the system, which visually looks like a sort of play-by-play of a call or request for service. The county has used the same software since 1999, and sometimes it will automatically log an officer out, which Barber experienced Thursday evening.
“I’ve never seen (computer-aided dispatch) crash as many times in my four years at Deschutes County 911 than I have in the past six months,” Barber said Thursday.
There is another hitch to the current computer-aided dispatch system, according to police. Dispatchers know a patrol car’s location via GPS, but as it stands, individual Bend police officers can’t see where other officers are at any given moment and have to communicate information of that nature by radio or cellphone.
Reinke said the law enforcement agencies decide how to prioritize calls and allocate officers to them, and dispatch bases its system on those decisions.
After looking at the records management system offered by Hitech Systems, the current computer-aided dispatch provider, law enforcement agencies found last year that it wouldn’t be a good fit. Having recently updated New World Systems’ records management system, Porter said, they found it would be too costly to switch every agency to Hitech.
The company hadn’t installed a records management system for an agency in Oregon before and didn’t have the functionality local police agencies desired, such as personnel management, Porter said. The county and its cities had recently invested thousands of man hours in training those who have access to records, which include not only police but entities such as parole and probation and the district attorney’s office.
So now it’s time to see whether New World Systems’ computer-aided dispatch software could work for dispatchers. Police say the dispatch system offered by New World Systems would have mapping capability, allowing officers to use one system for information about the call and how to get to it.
“A full … integration has advantages we want to explore,” Reinke said Monday. “We are willing to make the change; we just have to make sure it meets our needs as well as our folks in the field.”
Reinke says a functioning computer-aided dispatch system is essential to dispatch work, which includes taking and processing 911 calls. Many considerations go into a software-buying decision, he said — for example, dispatchers need a program that can rely mostly on keyboard entry rather than clicks of a mouse, especially for a large center that processes many calls at once.
The county hired a consultant to evaluate requirements and priorities for an integrated system at a cost of $95,000, and expect a recommendation sometime this spring. The same firm, Adcomm Engineering, is upgrading the radio system public safety agencies in the county use to communicate with each other and dispatchers, according to The Bulletin archives.
“We think someone from outside can help us … (and) give guidance,” Reinke said. “Even if we made the decision to change to New World today, we are months away from deployment.”
Reinke said maintenance and operations costs could be lower if they use the same platform for dispatch and records. There are some costs to maintain communications with the Oregon Department of Transportation and the Oregon State Police, he said.
These days, the expectation is law enforcement officers require a host of technologies to perform their jobs, from body cameras to cellphones.
The Bend Police Department has updated its intranet software and uses a mapping program to keep an eye on crime trends geographically and by date and time. The department will soon fully implement another software program that will be used largely to track personnel matters, such as how often within a certain time period officers use force or engage in pursuits, according to Lt. Brian Kindel.