Upgrades ease policing in Newport

In the Newport Beach Police Department's call center Tuesday, dispatcher Spring Case checked on the license plate number of a driver who'd been pulled over for an expired tag.

A small, red flag appeared on one of Case's half-dozen monitors. It told her this driver had a history with the NBPD.

"He was actually pulled over on [March] 10th and cited for the same thing," she said.

A month ago, the dispatcher would have had to call the Police Department's records office if she wanted to access such tidbits.

"This is a small, simple stop," she said. "Who would know? But now we know all the history, the car, the person's name."

Since a new computer system went live at the NBPD the morning of March 4, comprehensive information like previous traffic stops has been at officers' and dispatchers' fingertips

For instance, when a burglary alarm triggers in Newport, the computer system will automatically find out whether the residents recently asked police volunteers to perform a vacation check — something the department offers out-of-town residents.

"It's very good for dispatch and the officers to know that nobody's supposed to be at that house," NBPD spokeswoman Jennifer Manzella said. "So now those two systems talk."

Or if a suspect has previous arrests for resisting police, that information will be wired to an officer, warning him that he might be dealing with someone who's uncooperative.

"When an officer goes out there, he's armed with a lot more knowledge than he would have been otherwise," Manzella said.

The $1.4-million upgrade took 19 disparate systems and integrated them into one massive, streamlined hub, according to Manzella.

All that information had been available before, but the upgrade puts it into an easily navigable web.

It was like making a transition from DOS to Windows, employees said.

"It's really just trimming off those extra seconds and minutes here and there," Manzella said.

That speed is a major new feature, crime analyst Caroline Staub said.

Previously, patrol officers would print out or handwrite their reports. Their supervisor would approve them — on paper — and a data-entry worker would scan them into the computer system to be filed.

The process could take 24 hours.

Now, officers type reports directly into the integrated system, and supervisors can approve them with the push of a button — a process that takes about half an hour.

Lieutenants responsible for watching over certain zones in the city can now monitor crimes in near-real time.

"The big difference is that the area commanders don't have to wait for my weekly email for trends," Staub said.

Although the department's information is now more readily available, the new system doesn't change who can access it.

"The levels of clearance that we've always had are still in place," Manzella said. The system also tracks and records what information users access.

Back in dispatch, Case showed off one of her favorite features.

Using her mouse, she zoomed in on a map of the Balboa Peninsula and drew a small circle a couple of blocks wide. She typed in a date and instantly called up every incident that happened on that day inside her circle.

"A lot of people on the peninsula, they won't know where they were at," Case said. "They'll say, I met up with an officer at 24th and the beach, and they have my wallet."

The next time someone calls with only a rough time and location, she won't have to sift through dozens of reports to find what the person is talking about.

"This is the first time any [dispatch system] I've used had that ability," she said. "It's really cool."

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