Based in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, Elizabethtown Police Department’s staff of full-time police officers is tasked with protecting the almost 12,000 residents of Elizabethtown.
Chief Jack Mentzer (pictured) has been a part of the Elizabethtown Police Department for 30 years. He remembers the days of using text-based WordPerfect templates to manage the department’s records and recalls the many challenges these templates presented: duplication of effort, outdated data, and more chance for errors.
The switch to Metro Technology’s Visual Alert® Records Management System (RMS) came in the early 1990s, spearheaded by a Chief who’d had a good experience with Visual Alert in another county. He knew it would help the Elizabethtown Police Department run more efficiently and better serve its community, and he was right.
“Visual Alert is a very intuitive solution that is easy for street officers to use, which is critical. This is its biggest advantage,” explained Chief Mentzer. “In our cars, our officers have live access to the Visual Alert database just like being back in the office and sitting at their desk.”
Chief Mentzer explained that buy-in of street officers is essential for a product like this that is so integral in every aspect of their job. “No matter how great a product seems, it won’t succeed if it is not adopted by the intended users. Visual Alert is easy to use and makes the officers’ job easier; therefore, with the entire team using the solution, our entire department can be that much more efficient.”
Visual Alert is a total solution that can integrate Records Management, Computer Aided Dispatch, Resource Management, and Information Sharing in one powerful system. The officers in the field can access it from any desktop, notebook, wireless, or mobile device and instantly call up relevant information. Any new information they enter automatically updates all related records in the system at once.
Before using Visual Alert, an officer would take a report, write it up and give it to a secretary, who would enter the data into a WordPerfect template. This doubled the possibility for mistakes to occur with two people recording the information and took twice the amount of time.
Chief Mentzer explained that now when an officer takes the initial report he or she enters it directly into the Visual Alert system. “When standard information is entered, it auto-populates throughout the system, cutting down on duplication of effort, time spent on data entry and potential errors. This streamlines our processes and we are able to take reports much more efficiently – getting our officers back to doing their job quicker.”
Visual Alert allows the police department to attach videos, photos, PDFs, and more to their reports, keeping everything together in one location. “With all the information for an investigation in one place, Visual Alert is a truly comprehensive solution for us,” said Chief Mentzer.
The Visual Alert RMS has many modules (i.e. Evidence, CompStat, Citation processing, State Criminal Complaint processing, State Juvenile Petition processing, Photo Lineup, and more). The Visual Alert Parking Ticket module is just one of many the Elizabethtown Police Department uses to automate its processes. In the borough of Elizabethtown, many parking tickets are written. With Visual Alert, the process for managing these tickets has been automated, requiring very little human interaction.
An officer will issue a parking ticket; secretarial staff enters it into the Visual Alert system. The system tracks it and automatically generates a warning letter that if the ticket goes unpaid it will go to a citation. If a payment has not been received after the stipulated amount of time, Visual Alert automatically generates a citation. The officer must simply review the citation, sign it and take it to the district justice office to be processed.
Prior to Visual Alert, processing parking tickets took one secretary approximately two to three days per month. Now, it takes about two hours.
Visual Alert’s administration features also have proven valuable for the Elizabethtown Police Department, reducing the time for Chief Mentzer and his staff to generate reports, and providing
reports that are more accurate and complete.
“We use Visual Alert for tracking personnel, training, discipline, awards, and much more. It is an outstanding tool to track, manage and plan for our officers’ training,” explained Chief Mentzer. It is critical to ensure the officers receive the proper training and to also maintain good records of the training. Officers have state-mandated in-service training as well as firearms, CPR, first aid, AED, emergency vehicle operations, and the list goes on and on. All of that needs to be documented. It is important to have the records to show when and where the training took place in the event that their training is ever questioned in court or for other reasons. Visual Alert also gives police departments the capability of scanning training certificates and electronically attaching them to an officer’s training records.
Another area where Chief Mentzer has noticed a significant time savings is with his reporting to the borough. Each month he must provide a report at the borough council meeting, as well as a more comprehensive annual report of what his staff is doing and how the borough’s tax dollars are being used.
His staff completes daily activity reports in Visual Alert that show what they have done throughout their shift. These reports provide details on particular calls, whether they were reading parking meters, conducting a traffic stop, doing presentations at local schools, or filing reports. “As public servants, we need to be accountable of our time. With tighter municipal budgets, this data can be helpful in justifying staffing positions. Visual Alert is a valuable administrative tool to manage this information and generate critical reports.”
As a Metro Technology customer for almost two decades, Chief Mentzer commented that “the team at Metro has been awesome at keeping the system up-to-date. Many times each year they update the system with new forms from the state and new functionality, often requested from customers. The customer support is outstanding. When we have a problem, we actually talk to a person who helps us through it, offers a solution or addresses it in their next software update. You don’t find that type of responsiveness to customer needs from other vendors.”
Chief Mentzer also commented on moving to Visual Alert 2. “Visual Alert has become the true records management system – it is an all-encompassing product that has evolved from a DOS-based system to a true Windows-based environment that uses a SQL database. It is much more powerful and robust. And, I’m looking forward to using the new advanced data sharing capabilities. It is an outstanding tool with integration to LEJIS built right into Visual Alert 2.”
“Being able to share data with LEJIS is a huge benefit. It can really help with officer safety,” added Chief Mentzer. If an officer runs a name in the system, and a problem has occurred in another town or county with this individual, the officer will immediately be alerted that this person has been “flagged” in the system and can take the necessary precautions when approaching the person.
“Visual Alert is a great product that is scalable for small and big cities,” added Chief Mentzer. “It is not just a records management system, but an all-encompassing solution for entire departments no matter the size.”