New barracks, radios in works for troopers

10-hour shifts, laptops on the way

June 07, 1999|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,SUN STAFF

Moving into spacious and worker-friendly new barracks is only one of four major changes state police in Westminster will be adjusting to within the next five weeks.

Along with the move to the new $3.1 million facility, which is next door to the current 38-year-old barracks, troopers will begin 10-hour shifts June 30 and soon after will receive new 800-megahertz radios and laptop computers that will modernize communications and filing of accident and crime reports.

The change from five eight-hour to four 10-hour shifts will mean less overtime, improve protection at peak periods and boost morale, said 1st Sgt. Eric Danz, who coordinates the troopers' rotating shifts, allowing time for days off and court appearances.

Work schedules for about 100 troopers must be planned six months in advance to accommodate court schedules, Danz said.

Troopers in Frederick and Bel Air have been working 10-hour shifts, and Carroll County Sheriff Kenneth L. Tregoning, who retired last year as barracks commander in Frederick, said more than a year ago that the first four months of operation on 10-hour shifts saved $6,000 in overtime costs.

Troopers assigned to the Westminster barracks last year favored switching to the longer shifts by 75-11, Danz said. Some did not respond to the informal poll, he said.

The 10-hour shift also means that troopers annually will have an extra 52 days off, but by staggering on-duty assignments, more troopers can be on patrol during rush hours, when traffic accidents are more prevalent.

More efficient patrol duty will be enhanced by the new radios and laptop computers, said Lt. Terry L. Katz, barracks commander.

The 800-megahertz radios, similar to those being used by Carroll County fire and emergency operations, will enable troopers to have direct contact with those agencies as well as with sheriff's deputies and municipal police officers in Westminster, Hampstead, Sykesville, Manchester and Taneytown.

Such interagency communication is vitally important in high-speed chases, for instance, so that troopers can speak directly to officers from other agencies joining in a pursuit.

At present, such communications are relayed by emergency or police dispatchers, and even a five- or 10-second delay can jeopardize the safety of police and citizens.

That was apparent in August 1997 when a Westminster officer chased suspects about five miles toward Finksburg at over 90 mph. Just before the fleeing car crashed, the officer saw that three young children were in the rear seat, and the chase was aborted.

The children were not injured when the car crashed as the driver attempted a sharp turn into a mobile home park, struck a curb and hit a wood signpost.

Without direct communication with state police who had joined the chase, the only way the officer could alert troopers about the children was by radio relay through dispatchers.

Roadblock planned

Had the car not crashed when it did, it might have reached a roadblock that troopers were establishing before they learned children were in the fleeing car.

A crash at higher speeds might have been much more serious, police said.

The new communications system will use a new radio tower built by Sprint and located behind the new barracks.

"It is a win-win deal," Katz said. "Sprint provides the tower for our radio antenna, we provide the property to build it and they can sell space on the tower to other corporations."

If the radio system speeds communication, so will the laptop computers, Danz said.

As soon as they arrive -- "any day now," Danz said -- training will begin with each trooper receiving about two hours of instruction.

Paperless reports

The laptops will make report writing paperless, he said.

"Troopers will be able to produce a report and download it to a floppy disk," he said. "The disk can be dropped off, or sent to the barracks, or the report can be transmitted via wireless modem."

The benefit is speed in filing reports, getting troopers back on patrol more quickly, and once date retrieval software is in place, state police officials will have rapid access to records, Danz said.

Such rapid access will enable state police to quickly track data on crime trends and more effectively deploy troopers and resources, rather than having to rely on troopers' memories to link suspects to a series of crimes, for example, he said.

Police in Baltimore County have had keyboard display terminals for several years, said spokesman Bill Toohey.

"They afforded limited capabilities in accessing information, but within the year, we should have new computers that can be carried along when an officer takes a report," he said.

Report forms can be called to the computer screen, completed and transmitted immediately to a shift supervisor for approval and electronic filing to central records.

Just as in Baltimore County, state police will phase in use of laptop computers, said Capt. Greg Shipley, state police spokesman.

Pub Date: 6/07/99

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