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New software means leap in efficiency for sheriff's office


by: SPOKESMAN PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Wilsonville Police Community Service Officer Julie Fanger enters a report into the agencys new Report Writer software. As soon as it is uploaded the report will be available to deputies on patrol, central dispatch and the entire agency. It’s a change that will go unnoticed to the average citizen.

For the men and women working for the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office, however, the agency’s new centralized reporting system could help transform the way they perform their duties. Handwritten reports, forms and other paperwork are on the way out. In its place, the new Report Writer software will not only provide deputies in the field with a new, more efficient means of keeping track of their calls, but the information they upload also will be available to other officers on demand.

“We want to have a system that is a highly searchable, highly stable reporting environment,” said Sgt. Dan Kraus of the Wilsonville Police Department, one of four agencies run by the sheriff’s office under contract with Wilsonville and other cities. “We want as few glitches as possible, and finally, it needs to be consistent with our deployment of computer resources. Essentially this means every patrol officer is issued a computer that has an air card. They’re now able to conduct investigations and do things from their car that probably weren’t imagined from a terminal 10 years ago.”

The agency has been using a large database it calls ClassWeb for a number of years to warehouse reports and other information. But not only was ClassWeb built with technology that now is badly outdated, virtually everything it contained first had to be copied or scanned and entered into the system by a team of data entry specialists.

Now, those middlemen will be phased out and information from reports will be added to the database directly from the field. Up-to-date software also means that data will be handled far more efficiently in terms of the wireless bandwidth needed to transmit information from the field to the database.

“It was shocking,” Kraus said, “because in the old format the amount of memory that was required was crazy. Now, this is able to retain much more data and it’s going to require much less server space. It’s much more flexible.”

The entire project was done in-house, saving the department a good deal of money while also allowing the two programmers involved to tailor the system precisely to the agency’s needs.

“They started writing the code about two years ago,” Kraus said. “It’s all in-house. The flip side is if you buy something off the shelf that works, then it kind of works. It’s not customized to you. This is something that was written in-house and tested for almost a year.”

Community Service Officer Julie Fanger is a steady presence at the Wilsonville Police Department. She also handles a large number of reports daily and enters many of them into the system herself. She said the new software would make her job noticeably smoother.

“It’s great,” she said from behind her terminal at the police station.

The first mobile data terminals, or MDTs, were purchased by large American police agencies in the 1980s. They were normally used to communicate with a dispatch center by means of a vehicle radio modem.

As mobile data technology improved in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the terminals began to perform more tasks for police and other users. The last five years have seen an explosion in the use of mobile data in the consumer market. But law enforcement has been relatively slow to adopt the most recent technology, in part because of the complexity involved with securely connecting numerous law enforcement databases and dispatch centers via wireless networks.

With the adoption of their new software, however, Clackamas County has moved firmly into the 21st century, Kraus said.

“It’s not brand new, but it’s relatively new to law enforcement,” he said. “Now we can do an extraordinary amount of stuff.”

Another beneficiary is the county jail in Oregon City. Jail personnel now can view an uploaded report on an incoming prisoner before that individual ever reaches the jail sally port for processing.

“The number one priority of the programming team,” Kraus said, “is to get the custody forms smoothed out so that they can be prepared at the jail and have that ready for the jail staff ahead of time.”

The usual learning curve with any new technology is currently taking place among the hundreds of personnel across the agency. But once that shakes itself out, Kraus said, the end result will be a significant leap in efficiency.

It also will help avoid the recent halt in the public release of police reports, which meant a one-week delay in their publication by the Spokesman.

“People already write reports from their cars,” he said. “And I think it’ll be faster access, smoother approvals — a supervisor has to approve the report — and quicker access by end users. The accessing of the data will be pretty much seamless.”