New computer system cuts paper chase for police

By Kathy Helms-Hughes

STAR STAFF
khughes@starhq.com

   Where are the major areas of criminal activity in Elizabethton? The answer is just a few keystrokes away for Chief of Police Roger Deal and members of the Elizabethton Police Department.
   The department has installed a new records management system capable of crime mapping, case management for the Criminal Investigation Division, computer-aided dispatch at Carter County 911, as well as citation and court case management.
   The new system is networked to the emergency communications center, police headquarters and criminal investigations and appears to be working well, according to Chief Deal. "It will provide us with a lot more information ... and even do things like crime mapping to show us hot spots that we need to focus on."
   The new system ties all of the data together and allows police to search for suspects of criminal activity by modus operandi, name, alias, vehicle type, and vehicle tag, to name a few.
   "Basically, rather than going through a box, you'll have it at your fingertips. It also has the capability of digital imaging so we can attach the arrestee's photo to the (incident) report. If you're looking up a suspect by alias, you pull up the aliases and photos," Deal said. Software for the new system even allows criminal investigators to do composite drawings of suspects.
   Charter Communication will be running a fiber optic line into the police station to allow cable television viewers access to a government information channel.
   "What it will do is everybody who is on Charter Communications within the city will have this government information channel and it will tell you about city projects that are ongoing, such as road closings due to construction, upcoming events for the Elizabethton Parks and Recreation Center, job openings within the city, as well as fire and police safety tips. The channel will be operated out of the police department," Chief Deal said.
   Budget constraints have had an impact on all city offices, and the police department is no exception.
   "We are maintaining everything that we have started, and that's been a challenge in itself. An officer sometimes wears several different hats to make the program work," Deal said.
   The department has been able to purchase several pieces of equipment through receipt of grant money, including three video camera systems and radar units for police vehicles; tactical gas masks, tactical lights for rifles and lasers for pistols carried by the six-member SWAT team; as well as nine desktop computers.
   "Each investigator will have one at their desk and not have to come to the main station and do their reports. It saves a lot of steps," Chief Deal said.
   "We purchased through a Tennessee Municipal League grant biohazard kits to go in patrol cars for the officers' safety in dealing with body fluids, and to retrieve contaminated evidence."
   In 2001 the police department patrol division investigated 1,133 accidents. Officers made 850 arrests, issued 440 criminal summons, and served 987 arrest warrants. Officers investigated 648 family violence cases and 42 cases of child abuse.
   Detective Anthony Buck, who handles domestic cases for the police department, "has a tremendous workload," Chief Deal said. "He deals with all types of family violence -- not only husband and wife, but also child abuse, ugly abuse. He gets help occasionally from other investigators but the majority of it rests on his shoulders."
   The Criminal Investigation Division investigated 809 felony cases in 2001.
   "You've got five people doing that," Chief Deal said, "and you've got to remember, we probably have more paper crime because of the shopping district of the county. So when they come down here with stolen credit cards or forged checks, we end up doing those for the merchants and the banks and the credit card companies. And you don't make a case in two or three hours. It takes several days and sometimes weeks and months. It's a slow process and cases are coming in every day."
   Because of terrorist actions Sept. 11, the police department not only has to worry about localized crime but terrorist activity as well.
   "Some of those terrorist acts could happen locally and we've got to be involved in the plannings and meetings involved with that, gaining intelligence and exchanging information that the public doesn't know about ... and we still have the same number of people," Deal said.
   "We have groups that meet on a regular basis that discuss and train and plan.
   You don't know what you're preparing for. You just go on intelligence that you gather and try to deal with that scenario one threat at a time.
   "There are a lot of things that are stored around here that could be problems -- major problems -- if not dealt with the right way or if attacked by terrorists," Deal said. "And a terrorist doesn't have to be in Afghanistan; it can be like a Timothy McVey. What does a terrorist look like? Me and you.
   "This whole thing is new to everybody," Deal said. "We're just trying to maintain our level of services and deal with what comes at us. Hopefully some money will trickle down from Washington at some point."
   The police department continues to maintain its Web site at www.elizabethtonpolice.com to allow citizens access to information about the police department and services offered, Deal said.