Communications among county first responders and communication between the Georgetown Police Department and the public improved substantially this week, said GPD Assistant Chief Robert Swanigan.
The police department began testing a new smartphone app this week that allows the public to send reports, communicate with police officers and follow a report to its resolution.
On Tuesday, the $9 million radio system for first responders went online, dramatically improving communication throughout the area, Swanigan said.
“These radios have so many more options over the ones we were used to,” Swanigan said. “We are operating on five (towers), and the sixth site will be live in March and we’ve only found one spot, one quadrant, where it is kind of static. They can literally talk on that radio anywhere in Scott County.”
The radio broadcasts are now encrypted, so the “bad guys” cannot listen, he said.
“I can’t tell you how many times we would go into somebody’s house and we key up our radio, and their phones would all go off,” said the assistant chief. “We would literally have to tell them to turn their phones down so we could talk on our radio.”
The new system replaces a system that was over 20 years old with no support and parts difficult to find, he said. There were multiple “dead” areas in the county which created safety issues for officers, he said. The new system will eventually have all county first responders on the same system and they will be able to communicate with each other, as well as other area first responder units such as Paris and Versailles.
The 9-1-1 center, located behind the police station on Bourbon Street, is being renovated for the new systems, so all radio operators have been moved to the Emergency Management Center on U.S. 25.
hile the new radio system improves communication among first responders, the GPD is hoping a new smartphone app improves communication with private citizens.
“We are very active on social media,” Swanigan said. “We have a very strong Facebook presence. We’re on Instagram. We tweet some. We had started receiving a large amount of messages on those platforms reporting things. ‘Suspicious person. Suspicious vehicle. My ring doorbell camera picked this guy up at 3 a.m. last night, just thought you wanted to know.’
“We have a limited number of people who monitor that. Every officer does not have access to see the messages. So, we were seeing a delay, sometimes hours, before we could respond to those people. It even got to the point that we now have a message sending stating, ‘This page is not monitored 24/7. If this is an emergency contact a police officer.’
“But very few were actually doing that.”
The GPD became aware of an app called Relay, which allows people to report the things they were reporting, but it now goes straight to the police officers.
“Inside the police cruisers on their mobile data computer they have this running,” he said showing a computer dashboard. “So, if a citizen wanted to make a report, the first thing that would pop up would be a camera, so if you wanted to take a picture, you could.
“There is a call 9-1-1 button at the top of the page. If I’m at Walmart and I see something that is a little suspicious, I’m getting ready to report it and it changes to an emergency, I don’t have to close out, I can just press the 9-1-1 button and it rings right to dispatch.”
Once a report is made, it immediately identifies the location based on the phone GPS, although that can be changed if necessary. When the report is made, a dashboard comes up with nine different report types ranging from suspicious person, suspicious car, alarm, theft from house, theft from car, noise complaint, animal or other.
“What is neat is if you fill in your information, my officers have the ability to reply to your report,”
Swanigan said. “A lot of time you call something in and then hang up the phone and never hear anything back. If you fill in your information, the officer can reply back. You have the option to remain anonymous, if that is what you want to do.
The dispatchers and the officers each can see the reports in case an officer is on a case, he said.
The app will provide a progress bar so the citizen can see when the officer responds to the call.
“The citizen gets some sort of feedback,” Swanigan said. “That’s what really separates this app is our ability to respond back to the person making the report.”
At any point, there is a map on the app, which identifies any calls to which the police are responding. This week a new feature will include a broadcast feature so the police can issue an Amber Alert, road closing, etc.
The app can be downloaded at the Apple App store or the Google Play store and download “Relay Safety.” Once downloaded the app will use the phone’s GPS to identify the location.
The app will be used on a trial basis for six months before a final decision is made. The cost will be based on the size of the department.
Mike Scogin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.