PA, Stanford merge dispatches

March 2, 2012, 2:09 a.m.

Palo Alto, Los Altos, Mountain View and Stanford will spend $2.7 million within the next year to consolidate their police dispatch services, according to Palo Alto Police Department Technical Services Director Charles Cullen. Palo Alto City Council estimates Stanford will contribute roughly $224,000 to the project.


“We’re doing a virtual consolidation, which is a little different from a brick-and-mortar consolidation, for both economic and operational reasons,” said Mountain View Police Chief Scott Vermeer. “From an economic standpoint, we’re able to buy one system instead of having the three cities buy multiple systems. Operationally, it allows us all to be working on the same system, which provides opportunities for much smoother assistance of each other in sharing information.”


Los Altos Police Department Services Manager Elizabeth Vargas specified that the unification will allow each city access to higher-quality technology.


“The three agencies together can purchase a much higher level system than they could purchase on their own,” Vargas said. “We can purchase a more robust system when we combine.”


Vargas wrote in a separate email to The Daily that there have been instances where coordinated dispatch would have been helpful in the past.


“Typically when a crime occurs on a border of any of the three cities, the city handling the situation needs to either make a phone call or send a Teletype to that neighboring jurisdiction to inform them of the activity,” Vargas said.  “With the new system, cities will be able to monitor this activity in real time.”


The city of Palo Alto approved a plan for the dispatch unification at a city council meeting on Feb. 21. Palo Alto was the last of the three cities to authorize the purchase.


According to Cullen, Santa Clara County decided how much each city will be expected to contribute to the unification plan by following a method the city has used for past county projects. Half of the cost will be split equally between the three cities, and the other half will be based on population. In both cases, Stanford is included in the Palo Alto portion.


Stanford currently accounts for approximately 25 percent of Palo Alto’s use of dispatch services, and the University pays for approximately 16 percent of the personnel and 25 percent of the capital costs, Cullen said.


According to Cullen, the consolidation has three levels or steps: computerized dispatch, pubic safety application and combining the three 911 systems. The central piece of the unification is the computerized dispatch system.


The purchase agreement for the unification is currently being finalized, Vermeer said.


“We are then going to get in the process of more of a planning, training and implementation stage,” Vermeer said. “The general thought is that we plan to go live in fall 2012.”


The implementation process may take up to a year before the new system goes live, according to Vargas.


Administrative work, software installation and training will take up the bulk of this time period as dispatchers and police and fire officers in the field will have to learn the new system, according to Vermeer.


“There will be work involved in changing the process of how we do things now and adjusting because of the sharing of the system,” Vermeer said.


This last step will include establishing a radio frequency allowing officers from all three cities and the Stanford campus to talk to one other. The departments have already received grant funding for this radio frequency and are currently working on its development. The state will fund work on the 911 system later this year.


The consolidation is expected to be particularly helpful with fire department services and automatic-vehicle-location (AVL) capabilities.


Each department will be able to see the location of all police and fire vehicles in the three cities and on the Stanford campus. This improvement will allow one city’s department, for example, Palo Alto’s, to request assistance from either the Los Altos or Mountain View department if their officers are closer to the scene of an emergency.


“If we need a specialized type of unit, say a canine or a Spanish-speaking officer, we would be able to identify that quickly and send it to the area,” Cullen said. “For fire, it’s going to give us the opportunity to do more boundary drop and auto aid so we are not duplicating resources.”


Cullen also said that the unification is expected to cut costs for the three cities in the long run, and if there were an emergency that made one of the centers uninhabitable, those dispatchers would be able to go to one of the other two centers and take 911 calls for their city.


“It’s going to be a much better system for all the participating agencies and Stanford,” Cullen said. “Stanford is an equal partner. They have our mobile application in their vehicles, and they will have enhanced capabilities once the new systems are in place.”


Currently, the Stanford University Department of Public Safety has a separate records management system from the Palo Alto Police Department, and this may be a possible area of future unification if the University is so inclined, Cullen said.


“The unification is a regional effort, and it’s fairly unique,” Cullen said. “We’re using technology to work together and realize a lot of the efficiencies of consolidation without the upfront costs of a physical consolidation.”

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