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December 03, 2004
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Kansas City PD roll out new multimillion-dollar dispatch system

Backers like to think the Kansas City Police Department''s new information technology will be streamlined, intuitive and cutting edge when it''s up and running.

But for now, with the Police Department''s new, multimillion-dollar integrated records and dispatch system only roughly a third of the way implemented, the words tossed around are more dour: training, downtime and adjustment.

The words used when the computer-aided dispatch system first went live in late October were a bit more colorful.

"There was some interesting vocabulary flying around," said Maj. Vince McInerney, commander of the department''s Information Services Division.

But on a Monday a few weeks later, the kinks apparently had worked themselves out. The communications center was humming along, and the new computers actually were making dispatchers'' jobs a bit easier.

"They''re just clicking along," McInerney said.

The dispatch system, which replaces a 20-year-old setup, is the first step in a major overhaul of the Police Department''s information technology.

On their new computers, dispatchers can pull up satellite maps of individual neighborhoods and describe building layouts to officers in the field. The computer will even spit out suggestions on which cars to send where, based on location and availability.

The system also can take the incoming number from an emergency call and quickly move information from the call-taker to the dispatcher. Previously call-takers had to hand-enter such information.

Police think the new dispatch system also may lead to more refined data on response times. For example, consider a call that comes in at 1 a.m. reporting a suspicious person, normally a low-priority call. Now imagine that at 1:30 a.m. a second call reports the man has a gun, which means upgrading to a higher priority. Under the old system, the half-hour lag would be factored into the call''s response time, McInerney said.

"Up until this time, our ability to truly assess response times was pretty severely handicapped," Maj. Kathy Pierce said. "Now we can do better analysis. We can fix what needs to be fixed."

Police and fire are now on the same system. If one agency gains new information on a call, quick keystrokes mean the other agency gets the same update. Previously, that process meant a series of phone calls.

Fire officials, whose end of the system went online last spring, sing its praises.

Starting in January, patrol cars will be outfitted with new computers, as well. At first, that only will mean access to the new dispatch system.

But starting in the late spring, the new computers will link officers to what McInerney considers the crown jewel of the IT overhaul — the new records management system.

The system will allow officers to file reports right from their computers. Currently, it''s a by-hand procedure, with data entry employees entering the reports into the department''s electronic records.

The lag on that is often a month, sometimes more, McInerney said.

In January, municipal corrections will join the system.

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