Pittsburgh uses its Street Smarts
(IDG) -- Understanding that an informed police force means better law enforcement is a matter of logic. Delivering that information can be another matter altogether.
In Pittsburgh's Department of City Information Systems (CIS), 52 IS professionals serve the IT needs of over 4,300 employees on the city's payroll. Part of their job involves giving employees access to information stored in the city's databases. But until early 1999, CIS's customers—including authorized personnel in Pittsburgh's police department—had a hard time getting their hands on it.
To access data such as 911 calls, police records, building permit details and calls to the Mayor's Service Center (an office fielding citizen complaints), police and other city personnel had to call CIS to request the information. Programmers, working under CIO John Staudacher, would then write queries to extract data from the appropriate databases. Turnaround took hours, days or even weeks.
And forget about integrating all that data—obtaining, for example, records of 911 calls and police activity and citizen complaints for a particular address. CIS maintained that information in its various multivendor databases, and merging it required the expertise of Staudacher's programmers. Because creating customized data reports was so time consuming—and CIS was strapped for resources—Staudacher was rarely able to accommodate such requests.
Staudacher began considering data access and application development solutions in early 1998. His search led him to Pittsburgh-based Cerebellum Software Inc., which offers a Java-based application development platform. It took three months for Cerebellum's staff—working with Pittsburgh's public safety departments and CIS—to develop Street Smarts, which Staudacher has been rolling out since January.
Now authorized administrators at a 911 dispatch center and employees in the Mayor's Service Center can create customized database reports themselves, hooking into the CIS data via Street Smarts. After accessing the application through their Web browsers, they select search criteria from a menu, retrieving data—including information about 911 calls, criminal activity, complaints and building permits—linked to a particular address.
They can also analyze neighborhood trends by looking at activity within a range of addresses. The application's point-and-click, menu-driven interface makes it easy to use; employees at the 911 center and the Mayor's Service Center were trained within a couple of hours.
Last year his 911 dispatch center was calling CIS almost daily with data requests, says John Rowntree, chief of communications for public safety. Now authorized employees at the center get information right from their desktops in near real-time.
Street Smarts also helps administrators at the dispatch center follow up on citizen complaints. If a citizen phones his office to say response to an emergency call was slow, authorized employees can go to Street Smarts, enter the address and find a record of the call. In the past, the employee would have needed to know the exact time of the emergency call.
The police department also uses Street Smarts to check for and curb excessive burglar-alarm usage, which wastes valuable police resources.
In time, Staudacher hopes to make Street Smarts more widely available by adding Web browsers to mobile data computers in police cruisers. When dispatched to a particular location, an officer could then check its history of 911 calls and criminal activity.
Around Rowntree's 911 dispatch center, satisfaction with CIS services is up. But then, so are expectations. "Once you have a system that's easy to use, you realize there are a lot of other things you want to do with it," Rowntree says.
Writer Lucie Juneau Patrowicz is based in Salem, Mass.
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