Some new technology in sheriff's office patrol cars is expected to help officers remain safe and target crime more efficiently.
Installation of 150 laptop computers into all Columbia County Sheriff's Office patrol vehicles was recently completed. More upgrades to the computers and the way the beat officers file reports and share and access information will be in service by early next year, sheriff's Capt. Steve Morris said.
"Sheriff (Clay) Whittle wanted to position ourselves to be more efficient with our officers' time in order to meet community concerns," Morris said.
The ruggedized laptops and their secure wireless network will allow officers to share more accurate information.
"Better information means better law enforcement. And getting better information into the hands of our officers has been a primary goal of Sheriff Whittle for years," he said.
The laptops allow officers to file reports electronically and access information such as mug shots, arrest records and criminal records from their vehicle.
The reports were being written by beat officers during or after shifts and were left for the shift supervisor to review and approve. They were then sent to the Records Division to be entered into the sheriff's office records management system.
The laptops and new report filing system allows information from previous shifts or other patrol beats to be available to other officers within hours. Morris said updated information is an officer's key to remaining current regarding activity within their beat.
"In the past, an officer returning to the street had no dependable way of learning what had happened on the beat during his absence," Morris said.
Reports from a patrol would usually be waiting to be entered into a computer system while the next shift of deputies took the street in that beat.
"In other words, the most recent reports with the most critical information for a beat cop would be sitting in someone's box," Morris said.
The new system also reduces end-of-shift overtime.
"It cuts down on so much down time and it allows our officers to be in the streets where they should be," Morris said.
Sgt. Jay Hollingsworth is a patrol supervisor at the Evans substation and is charged with reviewing and approving reports.
"It has made a big difference," Hollingsworth said.
Officers were formerly in and out of the substation all day writing and submitting reports, he said.
Access to a sheriff's office dispatch page, Hollingsworth said, allows officers to keep track of all patrol cars on duty as opposed to just listening to the radio and taking good notes to know where each officer is.
After the system is fully upgraded, Morris said, the officers will be able to access the Georgia Crime Information Center, allowing them to get information about vehicle tags and drivers' licenses and check a suspect's criminal history and warrants from a vehicle instead of running requests through the 911 dispatch center.
"It'll take a lot of traffic off the radio," Hollingsworth said.
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