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City police computer system developing

August 14, 2003|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

Piled on file cabinets and conference tables in an upstairs office at Hagerstown City Police headquarters are 88 neatly stacked, white cardboard boxes containing thousands of police reports from the last three years.

The boxes contain criminal citations, arrest reports and other incident reports dating from January 2000, when the police computer system crashed, one of the few casualties of the Y2K computer glitch.

As a result, reports no longer could be entered into the computer system.

For the past three years, systematic crime analysis that is available to many police departments through computerized record-keeping has not been possible in Hagerstown.

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"We just don't have that luxury of having people available" to sort through the records, Hagerstown Police Capt. Jack Moulton said.

The department began installing its new $880,000 computer system last year, and some of it is up and running, police said. The city's portion of the cost is $501,000, and the remainder is paid by grants.

Hagerstown Mayor William M. Breichner said Wednesday he was pleased that the computer system was coming along.

"This is a major investment," Breichner said. "It's going to be very sophisticated and, I think, probably is going to satisfy our needs for a good while."

A computer-aided dispatch system was installed in May 2002. Since then, information has been typed into the system. There's a list of active arrest warrants, a name list of anyone with whom the department has had contact, arrest reports, traffic citations and field interviews that police have conducted.

Officers soon will be able to enter into the system criminal investigation reports that will meet national reporting standards. That data then will be accessed with a few key strokes instead of a labor intensive hand search.

Moulton said patrol cars eventually will be equipped with computers. Once laptops are in the cars, officers will be able to connect to the local database and, for instance, pull up mug shots. Officers also will be able to access state and national databases for vehicle information or federal lookouts.

The new system not only will be beneficial to investigations, it is expected to cut down on radio traffic and paperwork.

Police Chief Arthur Smith has not had a fully functioning computer system for most of his nearly four years on the job.

Smith has said he doesn't expect the project to be complete until spring 2004. Even then, the data that has been collected between January 2000 and now eventually will have to be keyed in to the department's computers if police want to access the information efficiently, police said.

For now, officers are tracking crime with more archaic methods.

Nine city maps hang on a wall in the patrol suite at police headquarters. The last three months of crimes on each of the three patrol shifts are represented on the maps by colored push-pins: shootings are red; auto thefts, green; bike thefts, pink.

"That's how they were doing it in 1975," Smith said.

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