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LOW COST APPROACH TO HIGH TECHNOLOG

Found at: 0x1bi.net:70/textfiles/file?law/hightech.law

November 1990
                                                    
                                                                  
             A LOW COST APPROACH TO HIGH TECHNOLOGY                           

                               By

                           Mark Clark
                           Lieutenant
            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 
larger quantity.                                                  

     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                          

Computer Hardware                                                 

     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

Computer Software                                                 

     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                                        

     *  Customization                                                

     *  Documentation and                                            

     *  Training                                               

Software Installation                                             

     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                                             

     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                                                     

     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                                                     

     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.                                                 

Training                                                          

     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
         on;

     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 
completely on-line.                                               

     Training continued, and the handbook was updated and
amended as needed.  And, as the officers became more comfortable

Operational Considerations                                        

     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.

CONCLUSION                                                        

     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 
utility." (1)                                                       


FOOTNOTE                                                          
 
   (1)  David J. Roberts and Julie K. Gutierrez, Search Group, 
Department of Public Safety.'' p. 7.  This work is unpublished at 
this time. 



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