Google portal transforms police data sharing
The Westerville Division of Police knew it needed a newer, faster way of sharing information among staff.
But intelligence programs geared to law enforcement cost upwards of $60,000 to install, plus another $10,000 in annual maintenance.
"We found it to be cost-prohibitive,"Chief Joe Morbitzer said. "It just was not a good return on investment for a city our size."
A solution was found when one officer went out to see what other cities were using. Det. Scott Dollison then began working with city IT employee Brian Mead, who also is a reserve officer with the division, to develop a Google portal to meet the police department's needs.
The only cost is for data storage, which totals a few thousand dollars a year, Morbitzer said. The system is maintained by Google and takes advantage of Google's top-quality security, he said.
"We don't maintain or update any of the software or hardware; that's all done through Google. That allows our IT department to free up time," Morbitzer said.
The portal takes advantage of Google's cloud computing to store information, which can be updated in real time by police department staff and viewed from any computer, anywhere.
It allows the city to store big-picture information, such as the Ohio Revised Code and wanted posters, as well as smaller details. If an officer on one shift has a concern, he can type it into a blog to be seen by officers on the next shift, Morbitzer said.
Everything put onto the site is tailored to what information the police staff thinks is important.
"The staff can get in in real time and start sharing information, start disseminating information," Morbitzer said. "We have the ability to really button that down or open it up as much as we see fit for security purposes."
The department already has seen success with the program, Morbitzer said.
The staff has doled out positive feedback and has been quick to communicate how the portal can be improved, Morbitzer said, and an arrest already has been made, thanks to the system.
In that case, an officer starting his shift saw a picture and information about a man wanted for stealing from parked cars in New Albany. The officer noticed the man in the parking lot of the Westerville Community Center, a common spot for car break-ins.
"That never would have happened if he had not been alerted to that suspect and that suspect's vehicle," Morbitzer said.
The concept has taken off on a national level.
Google was so impressed with the concept that its staff helped the city to develop it. Then, Google hosted a web-based seminar, allowing Dollison and Mead to present the concept to more than 200 law-enforcement agencies nationwide.
Westerville also was invited to present the portal at Google's annual Innovation for the Nation conference in Washington, D.C.
Since then, Westerville has had many calls from police departments asking for help in establishing portals.
"We are getting daily requests on how do we set the portal up, how do we start using it," Morbitzer said. "We'll show it to as many people as possible."
Morbitzer said Dollison and Mead helped Whitehall establish a portal recently. In less than four hours, Whitehall police had a customized system.
Morbitzer said Westerville is looking at how the system can be expanded to be more useful to police locally and regionally.
He said he'd like to see divisions from around central Ohio look to share information in real time.
"Crime is so transient. Burglars don't hit in Westerville; they hit all over the region," he said.
The portal now allows Westerville police to view live footage from any of its public security cameras, Morbitzer said.
Police are working with schools to hook their cameras into the system, and Morbitzer said he would like to work with local businesses, such as banks, to put their cameras on the system.
That means if a bank notifies police of a robbery, officers could instantly view the lobby camera to get a picture of the robber and see his or her direction of travel on the way out the door.
In all, the Google portal has been a fantastic innovation for the city, Morbitzer said.
"I'm very proud of those guys for what they've done and what they've been able to accomplish," he said. "This is absolutely one of the best things we've done in a long time."