New Arundel dispatch system still down as 'adjustments' continue

$6.6 million public safety system at issue

March 08, 2012|By Andrea F. Siegel, The Baltimore Sun

Anne Arundel County's new emergency dispatch system, shut down because of problems shortly after it was introduced in December, remains unplugged as repair work continues amid complaints from police unions.

The combined public safety system from Tiburon Inc., with computerized dispatch and police records components, cost $6.6 million. Although county officials initially said they thought they'd have the dispatch system working again in a month, they have yet to set a new date for putting it back online. An older system remains in place.

The records and report-writing function is running. But officers have said that system is so burdensome that it has more than quadrupled the time it takes to complete certain reports and that some officers have fallen behind in getting reports in. Police officials said they are looking into relieving officers of some of the workload.

Community crime information that is available online relies heavily on incident reports that officers write in the reporting part of the computer system, as well as on ensuring that certain details flow into the online program.

Glitches in moving information from that system into the online one have resulted in a lack of information on the site for crimes that occurred within at least two months. Officials said they are rebuilding that connection, and in the meantime have offered to provide neighborhood crime information to people who contact the department.

Operating for less than three weeks in December, the dispatch function was taken down around Christmas. The county's police and fire chiefs, who'd gotten an earful from officers and firefighters, asked the county to suspend its use over concern for employees' and the public's safety.

Among the problems: Officers had been dispatched to wrong locations for traffic accidents, and the closest available Fire Department rescue units were not called to emergencies while those further away were.

With the names of buildings absent — churches and stores, for example — dispatchers turned to their cell phones to look up the street addresses for locations of callers desperate for help.

Bill Ryan, head of information technology for the county, said police officers are working with his staff and Tiburon. "Right now they are providing a tremendous amount of help and feedback," he said.

Ryan said plans call for them to get the dispatch system operating, test it and retrain everyone before it goes live again. He said a number of "adjustments" were made, and he is waiting for Tiburon to complete its part of that process.

"We don't want to project a date" for putting it into use again, he said.

"I will say that we are working with our contacts to resolve these issues," said Kirke Curtis, a Tiburon spokesman. He declined to speak about the issues themselves.

Police officers and firefighters contend that some of the glitches in both the dispatch and reporting sides could have been avoided or fixed before the system went live if they had been included in its development and launching.

Ryan said the Police Department provided its requirements to IT before the county issued a request for proposals. No one from the Police Department was available by press time to say what, if any, role officers who rely on the system every day played early on.

But police say the reporting and record-keeping side is so burdensome that it regularly kicks back their work, and their reports remain incomplete. Write-ups of incidents that used to take 10 minutes now take 45, said O'Brien Atkinson, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, the largest police union in the county.

"I had a four-car accident with nine victims," said Mark Gass, the union's first vice president. "It took me five hours to do an accident report."

The loss of time, Atkinson said, eats into other duties.

"The slowdown due to the reporting system — yes, it is a concern to us," Maj. Thomas Wilson, who is in charge of patrol services, said last month. He said the department is considering taking some data-entry work in the reports away from officers and giving it to others in the agency.

Police Maj. Pam Davis, who oversees administrative services, said last month that she expects officers will find the report-writing function easier as they become more familiar with it. Meanwhile, she said, she is scheduling additional training in it.

She said the online incident part is not operating and that residents can contact the county police for that information until the sites are working again.

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