The City of Globe recently hired an IT (information technology) consultant to study the Globe Police Department information system, after former Chief Mark Nipp reported earlier this year that it was not functioning the way he expected and wanted to explore the possibility of implementing a whole new system.
Much like electronic medical records software, law enforcement has specialized platforms that allow officers to communicate, track vehicle movement, facilitate more efficient dispatch and generate reports, all while being encrypted for privacy purposes.
These systems can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to acquire and maintain and generally have yearly costs associated for system upkeep, not to mention the hours of training involved to get each officer up to speed on systems’ operations.
In late March, the city contracted with police IT consultant, Interim Public Management (IPM) to study the use of Spillman Flex Records Management and determine if a new system was needed.
The change could have cost the city as much as $150,000 initially, with annual costs in the $20,000-$40,000 range.
So at the beginning of April, IT Consultant Gene Martel began his analysis, reporting back to city council at the May 22 council meeting.
“Chief Nipp said the system didn’t allow him to use certain aspects [of the software], including the case management module,” Martel said. “My job is to ask questions, so I asked about the decision not to use it.”
The Spillman software was purchased in August 2015 at an initial cost of $67,000, with $8,500 in annual maintenance costs. In February, Nipp, who left the department shortly thereafter, asked council to explore changes. Martel soon found that the Spillman system was not being utilized to its full potential.
The crux of the problem was the perception that Spillman had inadequate case management features that did not allow the department to efficiently track cases. A labor-intensive and inefficient process was developed that cost officers hours of time that could have been spent in the field and resulted in long delays in reporting.
Martel discovered that the case management features were not being used, so he brought in experts from Spillman to teach GPD how to properly use the system. The result was avoidance of the costs of starting again from scratch.
Despite the $25,000 spent on the consultation, the city will see a cost savings as well as more efficient use of officers’ time.
“[A new system would be] a negative return on investment with what you’d already spent, going down the path and spending money you don’t have to,” Martel said. “Moreover, you have to give it the old college try and it didn’t appear that was done.”
In addition to cost savings, continued use of Spillman has opened doors to further collaboration with the Gila County Sheriff’s Office, which implemented the Spillman system in 1999.
“Cooperation between the GPD and GCSO was one of the unintended consequences,” Martel said. “They reached out to me and offered to help in any way.”
Working together with the sheriff’s department will benefit both departments with cost sharing, dispatch efficiency and mapping abilities to help address jurisdictional issues that can be particularly complicated in the Globe-Miami-Claypool area.
“This allows us to get a more complete picture of what’s going on in the community,” Sheriff Adam Shepherd said. “When we started looking, it was inevitable we started doing this: More with less is a cliché, but as the cost of salaries and benefits increase, we have to figure out some kind of way to provide services with less money.”
Shepherd said there are other benefits, such as improved morale in the department because officers can spend more time in the field and less time doing paperwork. It also gives employees the perception that the department is making efforts to improve the workplace.
Globe Police Officer Melissa Ramos has taken on the responsibility of training and said the department’s efforts will benefit the city as well..
“Once we get past the training it won’t just help the police department, but it will help the city too,” Ramos said. “A lot of the services we’ll be using have to do with reporting and pulling statistics. Some of the statistics can help the city get grants.”
She added that the system also helps with the high-stress job of dispatch, which is handled by the county.
“Getting the IT situation under control will help our officers be more proficient and move from one situation to the other,” Ramos said. “It will [also help] cut down on radio traffic.”
The next step is for the city to acquire mobile data terminals for police cars. Shepherd has offered units that have been replaced, but according to Globe City Manager Paul Jepson, the city is prepared to purchase their own units and called it “a priority in the next budget cycle.”