A LOW COST APPROACH TO HIGH TECHNOLOGY
South Portland, Maine, Police Department
How does a department move out of the time-honored carbon
copy world into the computer age? Obviously, this is not an
easy question to answer, because the process itself can be a
monumental undertaking. Yet, it can be done, as many police
Department to enter into the world of computerization.
When the chief of police in South Portland decided to
expedite the department's recordkeeping process with automation,
only $25,000 could be used from the department's budget, and
third, the transition would be handled by an officer. That was
my assignment--to acquire and maintain the new computer system.
My first step was to talk to the neighboring police
Since they also had funds available, the officer assigned to
coordinate the Scarborough computerization effort and I arranged
to acquire jointly a computer system for both police departments.
This provided an immediate advantage because we could purchase a
computer system at a substantial discount since we were buying in
This joint venture later developed into a broad cooperative
effort between the City of South Portland, the Town of
Scarborough, and the Sanford Police Department. It also created
a criminal justice information network that has grown into a
CHOOSING THE RIGHT HARDWARE AND SOFTWARE
We concentrated first on hardware needs, primarily because
most computer downtime is caused by hardware problems, not by
our other major concerns.
Because we did not know what our needs were at first, we
contacted all the major vendors by means of a reverse bid.
These vendors then submitted non-binding hardware proposals of
bid. This also made it easier to see how much money would be
left to purchase software.
After the vendors placed their bids, we met with
This was an eye-opening experience, because often what the
vendor's literature boasted at bid time was not always exactly
make educated, progressive decisions toward accurately assessing
any longer term needs.
After considering all the options, we decided to purchase a
mini-mainframe. This would allow for easier expansion with
minimal cost. Also, with a mini-mainframe, a computer terminal
can be added for one-half the cost of purchasing a separate
The world of computer software is inundated with buzzers,
bells, and flashing colors. At this point, all the major
everything in the world a user could want, they were also
accompanied by a price tag ranging from $8,000 to $20,000.
also have features that are not wanted or needed. For example,
most criminal justice software packages come with a standard
computer-aided dispatch system. Yet, for our department, this
feature was unnecessary, and therefore, not wanted.
Since the vendors could not supply an applicable software
using the Relational Database Management approach. This
crime reporting. It is also very flexible and allows systems
administrators to customize each program to meet the individual
needs of their departments. But, the most important factor to
consider was that it was offered to us free of charge. This
Without proper planning, implementing a computer system can
be very stressful. It is usually simple to install the hardware
and to run the wiring, but this is far from the operational
vendors, it is usually fairly painless. But, because we did not
* Software installation
* System administration
* Documentation and
Installing software is usually fairly simple. The installer
at a time. In our case, the hardware vendor who set up the
equipment was very helpful at this point because the operating
System administration is a major concern, because it is at
this point that the in-house systems administrator takes on the
not work, this person had better know how to solve the problem or
at least have a telephone number of someone who can. However, it
or consultants. This is important because in most police
am, usually has other duties to perform and may not have time to
become completely familiar with how the system operates.
Customization is the process of taking a generic computer
one advantage of the Informix SQL RDBMS system over a purchased
the information they gathered. And dispatchers and data entry
Another feature customized into this system was the
each field. For example, if the user was attempting to make a
numerical entry and accidentally typed in a letter of the
alphabet, the computer screen would flash and tell the user that
the entry was invalid.
Another strong point of the system was that alterations
could be made immediately at no additional cost. With the
majority of software packages on the market today, this is much
more difficult, unless the systems administrator has extensive
experience and training in computer programming. But, with this
type of system, anyone can learn to make such changes without
Documentation was an important step in the process because
each time data were entered or changes were made in the system,
they had to be preserved. For this reason, backup copies were
made each month and retained, as well as hard copies of the
codes, in the event of a system failure. As an added precaution,
the backup data were stored off-site in the case of fire or any
type of disaster.
Because the departments were not staffed with civilian
operational, everyone in the department had to receive training.
But, because we had not purchased a commercial software package,
there were no support personnel from the vendor showing up to
answer questions or solve problems.
Added to this was the fact that most of the department's
1. Type in LOGIN; push return key;
2. If this does not work, make sure the monitor is turned
3. Type in your LOGIN.
This may seem oversimplified, but when faced with training
effective. I also wrote the handbook to include examples of all
the programs and screens. These handbooks were placed at all the
terminals, and extra copies were handed out to each officer.
The next step was to allow everyone to experiment on the
the system and hard copies were kept in case of mistakes. During
that time, I arranged for formal training in small groups for the
officers. Sixty days from going operational, the system was
Training continued, and the handbook was updated and
amended as needed. And, as the officers became more comfortable
Throughout this process, it became obvious that all the
off. For example, in case of problems or questions, the
then either dial into the system with a modem, or in most cases,
of operation, the system has not experienced any downtime due to
Finally, as our needs grew, so did the software package.
tickets, it was written and documented. Then, copies were given
to the other police departments to customize and use. This
the needs of the participating police departments.
Even though it may seem like a monumental undertaking, with
vision, insight, and forethought, any police department can
enter the computer age with relative ease. But, most important,
this can be accomplished cost effectively. A quote from the
technical report of the National Consortium for Justice
enforcement agencies throughout the State of Maine. Its
mplementation in numerous agencies both within and outside the
State are testimony of its thoughtful design and operational
(1) David J. Roberts and Julie K. Gutierrez, Search Group,
Department of Public Safety.'' p. 7. This work is unpublished at