When technology boosts productivity

On April 28, 2008, in Uncategorized, by The News Staff

By Joseph A. Curtatone

Curtatoneheadshot150(The opinions and views expressed in the commentaries of The Somerville News belong solely to the authors of those commentaries and do not reflect the views or opinions of The Somerville News, its staff or publishers.)

Earlier this month, our police department unveiled a new weapon in the fight on crime.  As is so often the case these days, that weapon isn’t a firearm or a special vehicle, but a computer-based technology that enhances communication, reduces paperwork, and allows police officers to spend more time on the streets instead of behind their desks.

That new weapon is the VideOversight interrogation recording and case management system – and it is already changing the way the police conduct and manage interrogations. Anyone who watches ‚ÄúLaw and Order‚Äù or ‚ÄúCSI‚Äù knows that interrogations work best when they are viewed by multiple personnel – and when tapes are made to preserve the context and detail of statements made to the police.  Yet interrogations can be more productive if they are managed by one or two skilled police officers working to build trust and reduce apprehension on the part of a suspect. That’s why so many TV shows feature two-way mirrors with assistant district attorneys and police commanders watching from adjacent rooms.

In the real world, the work of reviewing and interpreting interrogations is more often done with video tape recordings, but (as anyone who’s ever used a VHS cassette recorder can tell you) video tape is hard to duplicate, hard to index and hard to share.

Recordable DVDs (using DVD-R or similar formats) are, of course, much more flexible tools: they are more easily searched, copied and stored. But in an era of streaming computer video and secure networks, digital video can be transmitted, shared, and stored in other ways as well.

VideOversight uses all of the latest innovations in digital video to create a system that lets multiple officers view or review interrogations from their desktop computer monitors. Created by a Georgia-based company called Microception, Inc., it also makes the interrogation records easier to index and transmit to prosecutors or other law enforcement agencies.  It even organizes surveillance videos and other police video footage into a searchable case file system that links the video files to other electronically-stored case documents.

Given the capabilities of digital video, none of these enhancements is especially startling by itself – but, put together in one integrated package, they add up a great new way to speed up investigations and prosecutions while allowing officers to spend less time processing data and paperwork and more time working the streets.

Since it is such a cost-effective tool, I suppose that Massachusetts communities would have found out about it over time, but Somerville is the first community in the Commonwealth to invest in VideOversight – and we owe our leadership role to the fact that our new police chief, Anthony Holloway, had firsthand experience with the system through his prior service with the Clearwater, Florida Police Department.

Anyone who has attended a ResiStat meeting will tell you that, since taking over on Jan. 1, Chief Holloway has gotten off to an impressive start in his new job.  His decision to adopt this new video management and communications system here in Somerville is yet another reminder of the advantages we now enjoy from being able, for the first time in the city’s history, to recruit police chiefs from outside the department – and even the state – through a professional recruitment process outside the old civil service system.

Chief Holloway brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to his job. VideOversight is already gaining the interest and attention of other police departments in Massachusetts and no one should be surprised if, under Chief Holloway’s tenure, Somerville continues to be a source of innovative ideas for law enforcement in Massachusetts.   

Over the past four years, Somerville has earned a reputation as a community that embraces technological innovation. Our city is not the biggest or the wealthiest in Massachusetts, but we have taken a leading role in the adoption of cost-effective, productivity-enhancing municipal technologies. From advanced sidewalk sweepers and solar-powered street-corner trash compactors to a first-in-New England 311 constituent service center and the Connect CTY mass notification system, Somerville is improving resident services and holding down costs by modernizing its local government.

This isn’t about having the newest, shiniest techno-toys. These innovations help us measure and improve our performance and productivity. In an era when state aid is continuing to decline in real dollars, they help us do more with less. And all of us can take pride in Somerville’s leadership in putting these tools to work for our community – and for showing other communities the way to better municipal and public safety management.


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