D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey unveiled a new technology strategy yesterday that he said will enhance community policing and the department's overall crime-fighting efforts.
The $50 million effort includes new software, training and a computer-aided dispatch system to help improve the much-criticized 911 emergency system and replace antiquated equipment that is more than a quarter of a century old.
"In many instances, we're actually moving from the 1970s to the new millennium because we've fallen so far behind the [technology] curve," Ramsey said during a news conference to announce his plans.
"I am not talking about buying a bunch of new computers," he said. "I am talking about using technology to fundamentally change the way the [police department] works with the community to police the District of Columbia."
Some of the department's systems were so old, the chief said, it was difficult to find "anyone alive" who could decipher codes.
Plans include a new 311 non-emergency call system that will allow residents to connect with specially trained operators who can help solve their problems and free officers to handle emergency calls. The system is expected to begin operating by the end of the year.
A new computer-aided dispatch system will improve the 911 emergency system by recording vital information about each call, including the time police units were dispatched and map the location of the incident. The system also will coordinate information with the D.C. Fire Department and Emergency Medical Services.
The department's 911 system was criticized last year in an audit for allowing thousands of emergency calls to go unanswered. Ramsey said yesterday the response time is now about five seconds "but needs to be quicker."
Additional dispatchers will be hired to handle the 311 calls, Ramsey said. Those new workers will be cross trained to handle 911 calls, he said.
A state-of-the-art information system, known as the Police Reporting and Information Delivery System, will offer criminal histories, arrests, warrants, stolen property, permits and other vital information to officers. It also will connect them with national criminal justice databases and information from other law enforcement agencies, Ramsey said. Officers now have only limited access to crime information.
The department will purchase 300 mobile data computers during the fiscal year that begins next week. The computers will give officers immediate access to information and allow them to write police reports from the field.
About 170 cars have been equipped with the computers over the last two years, but will need new computer chips to update them, he said.
The department also will begin testing a crime-mapping system known as the Information Retrieval for Mapping Analysis. The system will be tested in the 6th District in Northeast Washington and the 7th District in Southeast and will provide officers and managers with "easy-to-understand" maps of growing crime patterns in the 83 patrol service areas and districts. Until recently, the department mapped crimes using "push pins," Ramsey said.
In addition, the agency plans to update and expand its Web site so that residents can keep track of crime in their neighborhoods, find the patrol service area in which they live and get daily e-mail updates on crime and community policing events.