By Lyra Bordelon
Over the course of the next year, Greenbrier County law enforcement agencies and 911 dispatch will be jumping forward into the “future” of emergency response – a new data terminal system from Motorola for police cruisers that will allow officers, dispatchers, and more to better communicate during emergencies both within and without Greenbrier County.
“It’s going to be a huge technological advancement and benefit for law enforcement in Greenbrier County,” said Greenbrier County Sheriff Bruce Sloan. “It’s amazing, really, over the years that law enforcement have been as successful as we have been with the limited use of technology. We’ve been taking some steps with that in recent years and this is going to be a plus.”
The Greenbrier County Commission approved the Motorola Flex CAD (computer-aided dispatch) and records system and services agreement during their Tuesday, December 8, meeting, agreeing to massively upgrade the county’s dispatching and policing technology infrastructure. But why is it so important? Greenbrier County 911 Director Mike Honaker explained to the commissioners before the vote.
“This is something we’ve been pursuing for a little over a year now, attempting to upgrade the dispatch system toward it’s better interfaced with our law enforcement agencies,” said Honaker. “To put it simply, this would upgrade the 911 center and bring it into the age in which we live now. Part of the program builds out and puts terminals in all of the law enforcement vehicles in the county.”
This means that officers will be able to “run drivers licenses checks, criminal histories, see if [someone is] wanted.” Honaker also explained it also allows the 911 dispatchers to send a map and directions of where a call is allocated “directly to the terminal for what emergency they’re responding to.”
“It obviously enhances the response of all public safety departments, that includes fire departments and emergency medical services,” Honaker said. “They will all be interfaced to this new 911 center computer aided dispatch system.”
Sloan also celebrated the improved capabilities.
“For example, [right now, when] officers pull over a car, the dispatchers may be tied up with two or three other calls, … they’ve got people on the phone, and they’re trying to run this query for [the officer], it’s just a lot going on,” Sloan explained. With the new system, “the officer just types it in and runs it, boom, there it is. … A lot of that is currently being done through dispatch, so [the officers] could do it on their own through their cruiser, which obviously frees up dispatch for other duties as well.”
The new system won’t be cheap – Honaker explained to the commission that the project has been negotiated over between the county and Motorola for some time.
“Over a year ago, this project had a price tag of half a million dollars,” Honaker said. “Over the last year, through meetings and demonstrations, we negotiated this project down to $384,313. As you can read in the contract, the Greenbrier County 911’s share of that cost is $159,229, [the sheriff department’s] share is $120,817.”
Part of the reason for the price is that the system is not a simple install – Motorola workers would have to live and operate in Greenbrier County for weeks during the nearly year-long installation, training, and officer certification process.
“They would actually have to be here for a couple of weeks, come to live here, … spend a lot of time installing the software and equipment,” Honaker said. “They would have training sessions with dispatchers, sheriff’s deputies, police officers from the municipalities, then it would be tested over time as it’s built out … we would probably go live with this, to flip the switch on this, so to speak, around the first of November. It takes that long.”
The system won’t be limited to the sheriff’s department and 911 Center alone – law enforcement throughout the entire county will be part of the project.
“It involves the Lewisburg Police Department, … Ronceverte Police Department, White Sulphur Springs Police Department, Alderson Police Department,” Honaker explained. “Those jurisdictions also share some of the cost…. The final price is based on the number of sworn employees who will actually be operating mobile data terminals in their vehicles. … All law enforcement agencies, except Rainelle Police Department, have signed onto this. They’ve agreed to pay their portion. They’re eager to get this done.”
The Rainelle Police Department is currently without a chief of police and has a massively diminished staff.
“The only reason the Rainelle department isn’t part of this right now is because they don’t have a police department,” Honaker said. “I had communication with elected officials over there and they want to do it, they just need me to come over there and explain exactly what this system is. … They are very much interested in this. … If they don’t do this now, they can do it later, but if they do it later, it’s going to cost three times as much.”
Rainelle Acting Mayor Bill Bell explained that he had not yet been formally in communication with Honaker as of Tuesday, December 15, but that the now-former chief of police, Dean Fankell had. Although the search for a new chief continues for Bell, action could be required sooner – although the town could sign onto the project later, Honaker explained, it would cost closer to $20,000 rather than the current $7,000.
Now with the commission’s approval, the project is ready to move forward.
“We’re so far behind in the county with technology, and this is going to put us up where we need to be,” Sloan said. “Officers will be more efficient, more effective, better response times because [the system] provides a map and directions to where officers are going, it’s going to be huge.”