The Santa Maria Police Department Dispatch Center.
The Santa Maria Police Department Dispatch Center has a new system with expanded capabilities, including large screens showing deployment of officers and firefighters at various calls. Pictured is Melissa Parker, a dispatcher II. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

The city of Santa Maria has unveiled its state-of-the-art public safety dispatch system upgrades, which are aimed at boosting response times and improving communication and safety.

Near the start of Tuesday’s meeting, the City Council heard a presentation on the 3-year effort that was among a series of recent upgrades to the public safety communication system at the Santa Maria Police Department.

“These applications help our public safety agencies better inform first responders in real time, improve response times, allocate resources more effectively, increase situational awareness, and provide for better data collection and analysis,” Chief Information Officer Jeffrey Marecic told the council.

“This project was a massive effort that required tens of thousands of hours by dozens of people,” he said, noting that it included city staff and consultants.  

The new system began operating Nov. 5, and Santa Maria firefighters saw one benefit almost immediately.

“The very next day, we were able to experience the benefits of the program which has been tremendous so far,” said fire Chief Leonard Champion said.

Firefighters responding to a medical call received information about a potential weapon at an address, allowing them to adjust their response and approach the site in a safer way, Champion added.

The system provides a vast amount of information, including response times and officers’ locations, and better pinpoints a caller’s location during an emergency and more.

“All that enhanced technology is creating a safer atmosphere for our citizens,” Sgt. Alfredo Ruiz, who has spearheaded the effort for the Police Department, told Noozhawk earlier Tuesday.

A team works to tailor various aspects of the new emergency dispatch system in Santa Maria.

While the new emergency dispatch system in Santa Maria has gone into service, a team works to tailor various aspects to meet the needs of the local agencies. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

After a recent shooting, dispatchers received calls and immediately began collecting information about the suspect’s identity, the vehicle and other details so officers arriving at the scene already had a lot of information at their fingertips, Ruiz said. 

“One of the best features with our new computer-aided dispatching system is the GPS capabilities,” Ruiz said of the satellite-based positioning that lets dispatchers track locations of the officers in the field.

This allows a dispatcher to quickly observe if an officer might be closer to a call than a colleague.

“Situational awareness is very important,” Ruiz said. “And then for officer safety, we’re also able to track our officers on the handheld radios now through our dispatch center.”

“One of the other cool features this system has is now the dispatcher is able to enter information, like a license plate number, on their one computer and it immediately brings a return,”  Ruiz added. 

Previously, the officer relayed the information, which a dispatcher then has input into another computer and provide the data to those in the field.

“It took a lot longer to get the information, and now all that information is processed and the dispatchers can send it and attach it to the officer’s call in their mobile data computer out in the field,” Ruiz said. “Officers now have the ability to view photographs of arrestees on previous incidents on their computers in the patrols cars. 

“Just the technology that comes with the system is amazing,” Ruiz said.

The Police Department Communications Center inside the police station on West Betteravia Road receives more than 170,000 incoming calls for service annually (about 465 per day). This includes 63,000 emergency 9-1-1 calls per year, or about 172 per day.

In addition to dispatching for Santa Maria police officers, firefighters and city rangers, the center also provides the same services for the city of Guadalupe.

The dispatch and records systems cost $3 million, and the city will pay $2.8 million for the next 10 years, billed annually, to cover maintenance and support from Motorola. 

Santa Maria joins the Los Angeles Police Department, the Metropolitan Police Department in Las Vegas and many other larger agencies in using this system, Ruiz said.

The records management system will ensure reports gets forwarded rapidly, getting information more quickly into the hands of detectives, and alerting them to a series of similar crimes.

It also allows officers to stay in the field to do reports in their cars, and not return to the station, improving response times, Cmdr. Marc Schneider said.

In the future, the city could add modules such as one allowing officers to issue electronic citations, and others offering the ability to track license plates or allow online reporting of minor incidents.

“We want to improve our customer service for our citizens,” Ruiz said Tuesday night.

Councilman Mike Cordero, a retired police lieutenant, said the system is lightyears ahead of the equipment he used while on the police force.

“It’s such a welcome opportunity to see this come to our community, and it puts us way ahead of other departments,” Cordero said.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.