Writer’s Block: Collaborating for public good

Last month the first of three contracts to implement a project to integrate and update all public safety records and information systems in Anoka County was signed. It was the largest of the three contracts and will install computer aided dispatch for Anoka County Central Communications, mobile, law enforcement records, subsystems, system hardware, implementation and ongoing maintenance with the contracts to bring the records of fire departments across the county as well as integrate Anoka County Jail records into the new system to follow.

Peter Bodley
Peter Bodley

Specifically, the project will put in place one integrated and all-encompassing system that combines records and data of 11 law enforcement agencies and 15 fire departments in the county along with the Anoka County Jail and the 911 dispatch center. The current system is old, fragmented and outdated.

The entire project is anticipated to be completed in 18 to 24 months and seems likely to come in well under the $8 million budget, which is the bonding authority which the Minnesota Legislature granted the county for the project. The county has not yet gone into the bond market to issue capital notes, but the project cost has already shown up as a line item on the tax statements of county property taxpayers. The first time was this year after the Anoka County Board authorized the first payment of $1 million on the project in December 2012.

This project has been a long time in the making, and the fact that it has come to fruition is testament to a great deal of hard work by a lot of people and several organizations. Not only that, it has been an example of collaboration and cooperation among a multitude of organizations, both law enforcement agencies and fire departments and their respective umbrella groups in the county, the Anoka County Joint Law Enforcement Council and the Anoka County Fire Protection Council.

Both have been existence for a long time and both have exemplified over that time the need for law enforcement agencies and fire departments in the county as a whole to work as one, not as individual agencies with turf war issues, as a matter of good public policy and, most important, to enhance the public safety of residents and businesses in the county.

Spearheaded by the late Robert W. Johnson, then Anoka County Attorney, the Anoka County Joint Law Enforcement Council was formed back in 1970 and has 25 members – an elected official from each city that has its own police department, plus the Anoka County Sheriff, county commissioners, the president of the fire protection council, elected officials from communities with law enforcement provided by the sheriff’s office and a citizen at large. The Anoka County Attorney chairs group.

It was created to improve the efficiency and efficiency of law enforcement in the county, and oversees 911 communications, law enforcement training, criminal investigations (the Anoka County Sheriff’s Office Criminal Investigation Division handles major crime investigations countywide, often in collaboration with the local police departments) and records management.

The fire protection council, which has also been around for decades, has similar functions for the fire departments in the county. Its membership includes upper management of the county’s 15 fire departments.

This public safety data project and the countywide 800 megahertz communications system, which was put in place a decade ago, would not have occurred if the law enforcement agencies and fire departments had been fractured, operating in their own fiefdoms, rather than collaborating as agencies and through their umbrella groups.

Unfortunately, this cooperation is the exception rather than the rule not only in the state, but also the country, which is why the new public safety records integration project is touted as a model for police, fire, 911 dispatch and jail in Minnesota and the United States.

As Chris Maloney, chief executive officer of TriTech Software Systems, headquartered in San Diego, Calif, which was awarded the $6,109,622 for the central communications and law enforcement components of the project, stated at the contract signing ceremony Nov. 18, “A great public safety system requires great people working together.”