Dispatching at the Schenectady Police Department is about to go high-tech, with GPS units that let dispatchers see precisely where each patrol is at all times.
The goal is to reduce response time by sending the closest car to each call, Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett said.
But it will also help the department catch any officers who leave the city when they’re supposed to be patrolling, as well as anyone who just parks the patrol car and waits for calls. Both activities would immediately catch the attention of dispatchers assigned to watch an electronic map displaying the location of each car.
Bennett acknowledged that the global positioning system units could have flagged officer Thomas Disbrow, who has been leaving his beat regularly on Saturdays to watch his son bowl in Scotia.
Bennett said his main objective in buying the GPS units wasn’t to catch negligent officers.
“It’s an added benefit,” Bennett said.
He added that there’s no question the GPS units will improve response times — though he won’t know how much time can be saved until the system is operational.
Currently, dispatchers have to call officers to figure out which one is closest to an emergency — and often, another officer radios in and offers to handle the call because he or she is closer.
“They won’t have to poll the cars,” Bennett said. “We can do a visual and see who is closest to send.”
City officials accepted a $325,000 federal Homeland Security grant on Monday to cover the GPS units and other equipment. The GPS units are actually among the cheapest items on the list: units for all 25 patrol cars will cost $13,000. The software to run the electronic map will cost $9,000.
“Normally the cost would be much more because you’re required to have a modem,” Bennett said. “We already have the most expensive component.”
The modem was purchased to run the in-car cameras.
Besides improving response times, the program is expected to serve as a safety backup. Dispatchers will take note of any car that hasn’t moved for a significant period of time.
“Extended stationary deployment is not usual, and you’d want to know if something’s wrong,” Bennett said. Dispatchers would radio the officer to learn why the car hasn’t moved.
They would also notice whether any cars are missing from the map, which will only show cars within the city of Schenectady.
Dispatchers aren’t likely to overlook one car’s absence, Bennett said.
“They have a pretty good handle of who’s working out there and what zone they should be in,” Bennett said. “You would know if it’s not in the city.”
The department is analyzing vendors now. Bennett expects the equipment to be installed in about six months.
Police officials are also looking for new in-car cameras, but Bennett said he wants to wait until the latest technology is tested by other departments. Schenectady’s cameras have repeatedly stopped recording, prompting questions of whether the cameras are unreliable or officers are turning them off. Bennett said he’s told officers they face discipline if their camera stops recording and they don’t immediately report the malfunction.
Since then, the cameras have been working more often, and Bennett now believes the department can live with its current cameras for some time.
“It’s not the video, it’s the audio capability,” he said, explaining that the cameras are producing poor audio recordings but are filming reliably.