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Brandon police go wireless

Xwave's computer-aided dispatch system for squad cars has helped a Manitoba force catch crooks fasterrn

The adoption of new technologies by frontline police officers can be difficult, but a computer-aided dispatch and fleet tracking system from Xwave has already paid dividends for the police department in Brandon, Man.

Brandon Police Service Inspector Harley Bryson said the organization had purchased

a computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system from a U.S. company in 1989, but it was never widely adopted in Canada, and over the years service and support had become difficult to obtain. Seeing the trend towards wireless by police departments across Canada, his force wanted to upgrade to a more user-friendly system, with wireless laptops in the cars.

“”We’ve seen that’s the way the police world is going, and it would help us immensely for our officers to be able to do a lot of their own queries for vehicles and persons from their laptops in a wireless environment,”” said Bryson.

Radio system inefficient

Under the old system, only one person could radio the dispatch person at headquarters at a time with a query, a system that was quite inefficient. Officers either had to wait their turn, or move on to other things. With the Xwave system, officers can query the database from laptops in their car, meaning they can run many more queries then they could before, he said.

Bryson said that new capability paid off just three weeks after the system went live. With its location on the Trans Canada Highway, Brandon gets a lot of transient traffic. In “”the old days”” Bryson said during a slow night, officers would radio in licence plates of vehicles parked at local motels. Over the years, officers just became too busy to do that, and there was too much radio traffic to allow it.

However, with the capability of the Xwave system an office running licences of several vehicles at a local motel got a hit on a stolen vehicle from Ontario. Bryson said on entering a suspect’s motel room a cache of stolen property from three recent break-ins in Brandon was discovered.

Arrests and recoveries

“”Before we wouldn’t have gotten around to doing those checks, but the system gave us the efficiency to do them, which resulted in the arrest of the subjects and the recovery of a lot of property,”” said Bryson.

Still, Bryson said the biggest hurdle has probably been getting buy-in from the frontline officers for the new technology. While some were eager to try it out, others were happy with the existing system. Each day has been a learning experience, and Bryson said that while the training Xwave provided was a good foundation it represented quite a change. Before officers just had to radio dispatch: Today that staffer is responsible for a lot more.

“”Their job is quite stressful, with lots to do, and this is seen by some as more to do,”” said Bryson. “”But as time has gone on it’s starting to level out. A year from now I’d say the members would be lost if they didn’t have this to work with.””

Francois Letourneau, manager of the public safety group at Xwave, said the Brandon system is in use by many other law enforcement officials across Canada. Its function is to automate the dispatch process, as well as tracking all their vehicles.

The incident report

When 911 is contacted the system automatically notes the caller’s name and location. The details provided are entered into the system and an incident report is passed to the dispatcher, who, with the help of the system, dispatches the nearest available unit.

By linking to the existing incident database, information is also generated about previous incidents at that location or possible hazards nearby, all of which is fed to the officer’s laptop.

“”Maybe the people at that location don’t like the police, or next-door is a biker hangout,”” said Letourneau. “”We provide as much information as possible to the police officer to improve their safety and effectiveness.””

The gateway

The system consists of two sets of servers in the dispatch centre, one for the CAD and one for the gateway, which interfaces with the legacy database and serves the mobile devices. Panasonic Toughbook laptops are used in the vehicles.

Letourneau said the installation took about six months from contract signing to going live. The city looked after the car installations.

A key part was building the interface with its records management database and transferring information from the old CAD system to the new one. Certification was also necessary to link to national police networks, as well as training for officers and dispatchers.