The Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office (OCSO) serves more than 706,000 citizens in 15 cities, making it the largest sheriff’s office in the state of Oklahoma. With such a large constituency and with new trends in technology, Sheriff John Whetsel realized that it was time to update their equipment in order to better serve the community.
As the 1990s came to a close, the use of old systems was slowing deputies down, since they lacked advanced tools and instant access to information. For example, during neighborhood patrols, many would have to return to the station to complete paperwork and perform other tasks. Sheriff Whetsel saw the advantages of utilizing new technology throughout his department, thus giving deputies more time to serve the community. The problem facing the agency was identified, but finding a funding source would be vital for implementing the needed solutions. That’s when Sheriff Whetsel sought financial assistance from the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Service in the form of their “Making Officer Redeployment Effective” (MORE) grant program.1 The COPS Office awarded these technology grants to law enforcement agencies with the condition that the technology purchased under the grant will be used to effectively redeploy full-time equivalent officers back into the communities they serve. This was exactly what the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office needed.
With the grant funds, the OCSO had the ability to purchase a Computer Aided Dispatch system (CAD) and a complete mobile data system for 50 of their patrol vehicles. Deputy liability decreased and so did time spent by deputies conducting record checks and completing paperwork. Now, each deputy has access to information right at their fingertips, and the number of inquiries performed has reached almost 200 record checks per shift, a 2500 percent increase from before. In addition, through the computer network, deputies can communicate and transmit data from their vehicle computer modem at speeds twice as fast as traditional radio transmitters—not only saving time but also potentially saving lives.
Furthermore, utilizing the mobile data technology, the OCSO has also developed a Traffic Safety Kiosk (TSK), a system used at checkpoints to efficiently process licenses. Now instead of checking every fifth car and driver’s license, the OCSO has the ability to check every car and driver. The agency has utilized this technology all over the state of Oklahoma and has had great success. For instance, at a checkpoint on Interstate 44 in Oklahoma City with four units in operation, there were 77 arrests made and numerous citations for traffic safety issues in just over a 10-hour period.
As if the benefits weren’t already enough, the mobile data system was also set up to allow for growth and expansion. In 2005, Sheriff Whetsel expanded the Mobile Data Computer (MDC) and decided to allow other agencies within Oklahoma County to utilize the infrastructure. During this process, OCSO Lieutenant Matt Jackson expanded the features of the system to include automatic checks for records and warrants from local records management systems. Quickly, other advantages of the growing network began to emerge—such as the ability to share traffic announcements and decrease congestion on interagency and dispatch radio circuits. Moreover, law enforcement officers from different agencies can immediately share records, assist with other agency calls, and provide life saving backup to officers in need. Immediately after implementation, approximately 350 users were added to the system, including Spencer Police Department, Jones Police Department, Oklahoma Highway Patrol, and other Sheriffs and Chiefs across the state, both in municipal and rural locations.
Each department is responsible for obtaining hardware, software, and accessories; however, the OCSO provides technical assistance, training, and free set-up in an effort to create interoperability. The infrastructure now hosts 93 agencies (federal, military, tribal, state, county, and city law enforcement agencies). Also, there are more than 2500 individual officer users on the system, which represents approximately 45 percent of Oklahoma’s law enforcement officers. The OCSO also shares records management information with Fort Smith, Arkansas and other agencies within the state. There is also interest from neighboring states in sharing information, and efforts are underway to connect with the National Data Exchange (N-DEx), as well.
In the state of Oklahoma, updated technology has led to more productive and more efficient officers who now have the ability to spend more of their time where it counts: in the community. As a result of these new systems, response times are shorter, less time is spent in the station doing paperwork and getting through “red tape,” and more arrests are being made. Likewise, fear of crime has decreased as law enforcement officers spend more time patrolling neighborhoods. In addition, accountability of officers has increased in the detention center and on the interstates. The Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office is a case where one can find community policing in every aspect of the agency.
-Captain David Baisden
Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office
The COPS Office