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Dispatchers Trade Index Cards for Computer : Simi Valley: A police radio-dispatch system replaces a program where paper records and memories were relied upon to brief officers.


Hoping to send out better-informed officers faster, the Simi Valley Police Department has installed a computerized radio-dispatch system to replace one that relied in part on index cards.

Dispatchers who once used paper records and their own memories to warn patrol officers about their next call can now summon the floor plan of a store or a suspect's entire criminal record with a few keystrokes.

By typing in an address, a dispatcher can call up a brief history of past troubles at the site so officers know what to expect.

And when the computer is tied into the statewide Enhanced 911 system in about six weeks, it will immediately identify a caller's number and address so dispatchers can send help faster than before, Chief Willard R. Schlieter said.

"Overall, it's gonna be a faster way of dispatching, and with more information, so that the officer can service the needs of the people calling in," Schlieter said. "I think it's going to improve our response."

Two years in the making, the new system initially irritated and frightened some dispatchers, communications supervisor Lynn Freeman said.

"I was scared to death," said Freeman, a Simi Valley dispatcher for 17 years. "I was just afraid I'd put (information) in the computer and I couldn't get it back again to do my job."

Freeman said she fought the plan at first. "I was one of those (who said), 'Just leave me alone, we get the job done. We don't drop calls.' "

Yet after living with the system since it went on line at noon Saturday, Freeman said: "It's better than I ever thought it could be. It makes sense. . . . It does just impress me what we have access to."

Cross-referenced, streamlined and powerful, the new computer replaces a system that often left dispatchers at shift's end squinting into a 12-year-old computer terminal, laboriously typing in their own handwritten notes.

Dispatch officers who answer phone calls from the public used to write the information onto index cards, then stick the cards into a clock that stamped the time, she said. The cards and written dispatch logs would help the next shift keep track of what had happened in case officers were called back to an address they had already visited.

At the end of the shift, the dispatchers had to transcribe the cards into the old computer--which often led to duplicate, triplicate, even quadruplicate records if someone was arrested or helped more than once.

Now, a dispatch officer who answers the phone can type in the first few letters of a person's name or address and quickly call up any records of past crimes or police activity.

"When we're going to a call, we can tell how many times we've been there, and why we've been there," Freeman said. "We used to keep that all in our heads."

The new system also will save time for dispatchers, who fielded 500 calls in the 24 hours from Sunday night to Monday night and dispatched officers 112 times, said Ted Middleton, head of the city's department of Information Management Services.

"When you look at 112 calls in a day, that doesn't seem like an inordinate amount of work," said Middleton, who has been working for two years to help the department start the system. "But when you factor in all the other calls, which can range from 30 seconds to a long question on child custody rights, that's a significant amount of time on the phone."

The computer also will let police track crime patterns and adjust patrols to match.

Pins pushed onto a paper map will be replaced by a computerized map showing the place, time and type of crime in any area in the city.

"It will give us a better way to analyze deployment," Schlieter said. "Maybe there are better ways to reshape beats, and it can show us that."

Meanwhile, police records clerks have been working overtime to catch up, translating records of more than 850,000 radio calls since 1988 from the old computer to the new one, and throwing out the duplicate records, said Debra Ruud, the department's crime analyst.

The records clerks began working overtime March 4, often seven days a week, hoping to get a jump on the process by the time the system was running, she said.

But so far, they have been able to translate only a quarter of the records, and are expecting to chip away at it for another year while performing their other duties, she said.

"When it's all done, it's beautiful," she said. "This is going to be just one superior investigative tool; the system is just awesome."

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