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Improving police performance: New software changes policing operations in Beltrami County

Beltrami County Deputy Jarrett Walton, project manager, gives a presentation Tuesday to the Beltrami County Board of Commissions on the features of the new Law Enforcement Technology Group, or LETG, police software. At left is Jack Frost, Beltrami County commissioner. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

A Beltrami County sheriff's deputy stops a vehicle speeding along state Highway 89. The male driver does not have his driver's license on him, so he writes down his name and date of birth.

The deputy returns to his squad and types in the information on a laptop mounted in the center console. The computer instantly provides a driving record and, with one keystroke, a photograph.

The deputy realizes, "That's not him."

The driver, once truly identified, is soon arrested for driving on a suspended license and giving a peace officer a false name.

The 47-year-old man had claimed to be his 27-year-old son. There certainly was a resemblance: same skin tone, same facial structure. They even had similar mustaches. But the deputy felt something was off. The driver was wearing eyeglasses; the driver's license information on the 27-year-old said nothing about needing glasses to drive. The picture showed a man with a pierced left ear; the driver had no visible piercing.

Confronted with the information, the driver admitted to lying and was arrested.

Just a few months ago, this real-life scenario could have ended differently. Officers in the field previously relied on the transmission of information from Beltrami County Dispatch. Officers usually were given a description of a photo by phone.

The driver in the scenario described likely would have received a verbal warning and been on his way.

But things changed Sept. 14 for the Bemidji Police Department and Beltrami County Sheriff's Office. Both agencies then went live with a new computer system, Law Enforcement Technology Group.

LETG was founded by a former Minnesota police officer and has 12 integrations with state agencies and their computer systems.

Previously, local law enforcement relied on Cody, a program implemented in Beltrami County in 1995 and based out of Pennsylvania. Cody never integrated with Minnesota state agencies, and because of that, local law enforcement officers and staff were continually entering the same information on the same case up to three times into different systems.

Not anymore.

The LETG system streamlines operations.

"It's going just great," said Phil Hodapp, Beltrami County sheriff. "We were really anticipating a lot of resistance to change, but for the most part, everybody has really embraced it."

It helps that the new system makes doing the job easier, he noted.

"The technology just moves us so much further ahead," he said.

LETG is a Windows-based system and allows the same file or incident to be reviewed by all law enforcement departments. From dispatch to the officer or deputy to the jail to records to the county attorney, no paper ever needs to be printed out. Each file is reviewed by the appropriate department and then passed on to the next department's queue.

"The system is integrated with all of the entities that are involved in our system," said Capt. Mike Mastin, the acting police chief for the Bemidji Police Department. "It helps us all work more in conjunction with one another instead of separate entities."

For the officers and deputies on the road, LETG saves them costs in going back and forth from the field to the office. There now are laptops in every active squad car. They began arriving in December.

The laptops, equipped with both a finger pad and touch-screen technology, are connected to computer docks mounted in the center console area. The headrest in the front passenger's seat is a printer. Cameras and dictation devices can be downloaded in the laptop on the spot.

"The whole idea is to keep guys out in the field," said Hodapp, the sheriff.

Hodapp said a 2007 time management study showed that officers were spending 28 percent of their time in transit, going back and forth to the office to do reports.

"But this is their office now," Hodapp said, referring to computer equipment positioned in a squad car.

Deputy Jarrett Walton, the project manager on LETG for the sheriff's office, recalled days that he was constantly driving from the Law Enforcement Center to respond to a call, back to the LEC, then to a call, over and over again.

"I felt like I was chasing my tail," he said.

Having the technology in the vehicles will improve policing, Hodapp said, recalling a recent

manhunt in the northwestern portion of the county. Mapping technology is shared between all computers in the squads and in dispatch. A suspect's location can be pinned onto the map, which also constantly monitors the squad cars while en route. Hodapp said he was able to review current squad locations and assign assisting deputies accordingly.

"I felt a little bit like Coach Tesch, plugging the holes," he said, referencing Bemidji State University football head coach Jeff Tesch. "That's the advantage of this."

The system also provides a way to warn law enforcement of potentially dangerous situations. Whenever dispatch employees make a note onto the computerized incident file, that information shows up instantly on the deputy's or police officer's screen.

If, for instance, dispatch learns that guns were spotted in a home to which deputies are on their way to in response to a domestic disturbance, that information is passed along so police know that guns are likely to be present.

"(Dispatch is) constantly researching and putting that information out to officers," Hodapp said.

For the on-duty deputies and officers, LETG streamlines their duties.

Because the computers are hooked up to state systems, deputies themselves can do research during investigations. They can look up not only previous arrests, but previous associates, addresses and more.

"It has exceeded our expectations," Mastin said of LETG. "It is extremely user-friendly."

Every time a name, vehicle plate or address is entered into the system, that information is saved. So if there is a four-vehicle accident with five people involved, those names are all set aside. Once the responding officer reaches the point where a report needs to be done, the information on each person involved can easily be pulled over into the report without having to retype all the information into another system. All of those involved, thanks to the headrest printer, can also be given a printout of the initial report.

"They can do all of that right here in the field," Hodapp said. "It's going to be a real time saver for our troops."

The system also is designed to reduce or eliminate so-called "suspense files," or multiple records for one person. For instance, there might be different files throughout the law enforcement community covering a "Christopher Anderson," "Chris Anderson," "Christopher Andersen" and "Chris Andersen" even though they all actually reference the same individual.

"Each time that happens, you were creating a different person in the system," Hodapp said. "What we're trying to do is to prevent that from ever happening."

Tomorrow's Pioneer will examine the impact the new software has in other departments, including Beltrami County Dispatch, Jail and Records.