By: Bethany Wesley, Bemidji Pioneer
New computer software in Beltrami County law enforcement departments has streamlined operations to the point that employees are still adjusting to their new normal.
“I feel like I’m not doing something because it’s so easy to do it all now,” said Kay Swanson, the Beltrami County Records supervisor. “I feel like I’m missing something. But we’re not. It’s just that much more efficient.”
Cody, the old software, was never able to connect, or integrate, with state systems, so employees were constantly retyping and re-entering the same data into multiple systems.
But now with LETG, or Law Enforcement Technology Group, the same electronic data seamlessly flow throughout the system, from Beltrami County dispatch to police officers or deputies to the jail to records to the county attorney.
The Windows-based software can be customized for the client’s needs. So, for Beltrami County, the same file is transferred through different queues.
When the responding officer amends the file, uploads the electronic data and then flags the file for records for dictation.
Records then completes the dictation and flags the file for a sergeant’s review.
The sergeant reviews the report and sends it back to records, which does a final check before sending it on to the county attorney’s office for charging consideration.
All of this is done electronically.
“With just a few clicks,” Swanson said.
LETG was launched throughout the county’s law enforcement departments Sept. 14. It has changed the way departments operate.
Typically, two employees are in dispatch at once, each monitoring his or her phones and watching five computer screens at once.
A 911 call comes in. An alarm sounds and a red light flashes to indicate an emergency. But, as happens frequently throughout the day, the caller hangs up.
Dispatch calls her back: “Are you having an emergency?”
No, not really. The female reports that, during a dispute, a male threw a hamburger at her. But he’s gone now.
Dispatch employees have the entire region at their fingertips. Among the LETG software, 911 mapping and other systems, employees are poised to act quickly when an actual emergency call is received.
The mapping technology, done through BullBerry Systems, is consistently revised by Jane Mueller, the division director of geographical information systems for Beltrami County. The maps are updated by emergency staff to indicate road closures and hazards. This allows emergency vehicles to easily locate the best routes to reach a destination.
The LETG system and the mapping technology work together. The location of incoming emergency calls can be marked on a map as can suspects who are, perhaps, running from police.
Officers can access the mapping from their squads as well, though the appearance is a bit different. But they would be able to see a potential suspect’s last known location indicated on the screen.
The mapping gives dispatch an instant list of the first response teams that cover the area having an emergency, including police, fire, emergency medical, first response, forestry units and more. The information is assigned to open sections of land, too, which can be crucial in certain cases, such as a plane crash.
The computer systems allow the dispatch employee to select an emergency response team, and directions are instantly made available to get an emergency worker from his or her current location to the location of the emergency call.
“The beauty of the map is that as you’re going along and encounter construction, it will route you around it,” said Beryl Wernberg, a dispatcher and 911 communications supervisor/emergency management director for Beltrami County.
Even for those departments without the technology, the map is helpful, she said. For instance, Blackduck Fire Department does not now have the system, so dispatch is able to click on “get directions,” print them out and fax them to the fire department.
Other features involve a topographical view of the area, which can be handy in planning SWAT operations, she noted.
The mapping also includes areas of Hubbard, Itasca and Koochiching counties, since first responders in this area also cover that area.
The map also knows where each mile marker and trail marker is located. This especially useful in situations where a caller does not know his or her location.
Wernberg referred to a snowmobile accident in which the members of the group thought they were riding along The Blue Ox Trail, but were really on The Peterson Lake Trail. With the help of the trail markers, response teams found the accident scene.
The ability to quickly identify the location is crucial, Wernberg said.
Another feature of the map is that Beltrami County has had added into it all the specific Department of Transportation numbers marked on railroad crossings.
All the dispatching for the railroad is done out of Texas, so if a car-versus-train crash occurred in the area, emergency workers can just provide the DOT number so the railroad dispatchers know precisely where the accident occurred.
“That’s way easier than explaining that the location is 10 miles south of Solway,” Wernberg said, noting that Texas workers also wouldn’t know where Solway is.
The LETG system, too, is changing dispatch operations, mainly in the way it provides new opportunities.
Because it integrates with the state systems, workers are able to review past driver’s license photos and immediately have access to driver’s records and alerts such as whether the individual is a sex offender or runaway. The system also flags active warrants and stolen vehicles. It can warn of active orders for protection or harassment orders.
“LETG has every single connection to the state,” Wernberg said. “It saves us so much time.”
LETG offers workers the ability to see on their screens who is working at that exact moment, what cases they are assigned to and where they are located. That goes for dispatch, officers and deputies, fire trucks and ambulances.
“At any given time, we can look up here and see who’s working today,” Wernberg said.
The icons for each officer or squad can be dragged over and assigned to new calls as they occur. The mapping technology also traces the squad cars, so workers can know where the units are visually as well. If a call comes in, dispatch then knows who to call based on which squad is available and closest to the location.
“It’s kind of like ‘Ghostbusters,’” she said.
The new LETG system has opened up some possibilities for the Beltrami County Jail staff as well.
The photographs taken of inmates now are provided to the Minnesota Repository of Arrest Photographs.
The jail was never able to contribute to MRAP before, noted Cindy Borowski, Beltrami County Jail administrator.
Jail staff can photograph and archive tattoos, scars and marks. MRAP, administered by the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, saves those photos. If a female is assaulted and only noticed that the suspect had a dragon tattoo on his left hand, police can search the database for suspects with similar markings.
“That can be a very helpful tool for investigators,” Borowski said.
Likewise, the LETG system is integrated with those that file fingerprints, including MRAP.
It saves time, Borowski said, in that the same information does not need to be continually entered and updated into different systems.
A big change is that the deputies and officers are now being asked to do pre-booking via their laptop computers. They enter the applicable personal and incident information and go through the standard booking questions.
The jail staff then just needs to finish the process, Borowski said.