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Features

World-Class Communications

One dispatch center in Washington's Benton County manages to coordinate radio communications among multiple public safety agencies, even across county lines.

September 13, 2011  |  by Tim Dees - Also by this author

Benton and Franklin county law enforcement agencies don't operate on the same radio channels, but they do share data. The counties created the Bi-County Police Information Network (BIPIN, pronounced bye-pin), which serves as the records management system (RMS) for police operations in both counties.

The City of Pasco may reside in another county, but residents of the other two of the Tri-Cities don't notice it much. There are two bridges spanning the Columbia River that connect Kennewick and Pasco. It's common for residents to work in one city and live or shop in another. Richland is adjacent to Hanford and hosts the largest employers, Kennewick has the largest shopping mall, and Pasco has the commercial airport. All three cities have hospitals. It makes sense that the area law enforcement agencies would work closely, since so many cases span jurisdictions.

BIPIN drove a change in the computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system used by SECOMM. SECOMM worked on a paper-based card system until 2000, when they acquired their first CAD system from Hitech. Pasco police were using a RMS from Intergraph that was also adopted by Kennewick and Richland PDs and the Benton County Sheriff's Office when BIPIN was created. Information from the Hitech CAD didn't flow seamlessly into the Intergraph system, and the CAD data was a critical component of many case records. SECOMM eventually migrated to the Intergraph CAD product to facilitate data exchange between it and the police agencies it serves. Although the law enforcement agencies in the two counties share records data, the dispatch centers don't. The communications centers in Franklin County exchange information with SECOMM only by voice landline and cell phones.

One interoperability barrier common in many areas is the use of different radio codes and jargon. A "10-10" in one jurisdiction is a fight, while in another it's a private residence. SECOMM never had to contend with this issue as all area agencies have used plain speech as far back as anyone remembers. Code phrases are very limited, and used mostly for information that isn't broadcast over the radio, such as details of a bomb threat.

Although the recession hasn't hit Benton County as hard as it has other areas of the country, public funds are still tight. The loss of CSEPP funding will be a challenge for BCES in the coming years. Presently, much of the funding for SECOMM is pro-rated between what BCES called the "Big Three" (the cities of Kennewick, Richland, and Benton County) according to calls for service. The City of Kennewick is responsible for about half of the traffic handled by SECOMM, with the other half divided between Richland and Benton County.

There's little conflict within the fire and law enforcement disciplines with regard to communications. SECOMM has a separate communications manual for fire and police agencies, and departments seem content to abide by the procedures set down there.

SECOMM handles its recruiting through Public Safety Testing, just as most public safety agencies in Washington and parts of Alaska and Idaho do. Public Safety Testing charges a fee to applicants to take written (and in the case of police and fire applicants, physical abilities) tests, but the results are submitted to multiple agencies where the applicant wants to be considered. The savings in not having to travel to multiple sites to test for individual cities and counties greatly outweighs the testing fee. At the time this article was written, SECOMM had just completed a recruitment cycle and was about to put some new telecommunicators to work.

Jim Barber has nothing but praise for the people who work at SECOMM. "In 38 years, this is the most professional organization I've had the privilege of working with," he says. "The people here are very well trained, thanks to our supervisory staff. They do things that good communicators should do. They're not glorified secretaries, as dispatchers in some agencies are treated. This is a world class operation. It's the kind of place I've wanted to work at my entire career."

Tim Dees is a retired police officer and the former editor of two major law enforcement Web sites who writes and consults on technology applications in criminal justice. He can be reached via editor@policemag.com.

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Tags: Communications, Interoperability


Comments (1)

Displaying 1 - 1 of 1

Terri @ 12/4/2013 3:48 AM

Great Article, and I know old.

I worked at SECOMM from 1989-1996, I miss it 17 years later.

The BIPIN computer system was setup in the 1980s, not after they went to CAD, the information goes back to the early 1960s,. Benton & Franklin County agencies enter information into the system, every police contact, even making a report, arrests, booking photos, scars, marks and tattoos, fingerprints, alias names and DOB, even pawn tickets and other information that other agencies might need. We also used it for history of violence during domestics, getting a name and approximate age from and officer and looking for a DOB etc and running a person.

I moved to the Portland Metro Area. I worked at an agencies here, I was surprised to find that they have no system like BIPIN, not even for their own individual agencies. To get any information you had to call the clerk, both of us too busy to be doing that. I found out that “our little cities” were more advanced than the “big cities".

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