Texas Panhandle's data-sharing system corrals law enforcement comm

Law enforcement agencies in the Texas Panhandle are working together to share information across jurisdictions and with officers in the field. The collaborative effort has created a centralized dispatch service and database operating across a standard set of equipment for personnel in the region.

The Texas Panhandle is a large geographic area consisting of 26,000 square miles and divided up into 26 mostly rural counties with a population of 400,000 people. Most local law enforcement agencies are small and individual officers are often miles away from each other. Due to the distances involved, there was often a lag time in getting dispatch information to officers, many of whom either had no data terminals or ones with limited capability.

To solve this problem, 40 regional law enforcement agencies formed the Panhandle Regional Information and Data Exchange (PRIDE), with nearly $1 million in funding from an American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grant and a $300,000 Homeland Security Department grant.

Robert Cooper, north Texas account executive for CDW-G’s state and local government division, said the effort has three phases: equipping 250 police vehicles with rugged Panasonic Toughbook notebook computers; creating a shared database of Class C warrant information for traffic violations and other infractions; and building a networked infrastructure and a regional data hub in Amarillo, Texas, to provide access to state and national law enforcement databases.

The Amarillo data hub is operational and allows officers to access law enforcement databases such as the Texas Crime Information Center and the National Crime Information Center from their vehicles. These two centers provide information about Class B or above misdemeanors, along with wanted and missing-person reports, stolen property records and other data. The Class C database, housed in Amarillo’s new communications and dispatch center, went live this March and offers law enforcement personnel with in-car access to Class C warrants.

Another reason for the creation of PRIDE and the launch of the regional data centers was a reduction in services provided by the data center in San Antonio. The new center in Amarillo has now taken over most of the regional database responsibilities, said Cooper.

With the new data center operational and notebook computers issued to regional law enforcement agents, the next goal for PRIDE is to provide the system with additional command and control functions that will allow sheriffs and police departments to know where their personnel are.

Cooper said additions to the network will also permit county local law enforcement agencies to not only locate their own assets, but those of other organizations. For example, Armstrong County has only six officers covering a large geographic area. The new system now lets them communicate with all the other law enforcement agents in the region, but the planned upgrades will provide officers with the ability to see where nearby agents are on a digital map and to text or radio them for additional aid, he said.

John Kiehl, regional services director of the Panhandle Regional Planning Commission, said in a statement that, “Although the Panhandle is vast, officers throughout the region encounter similar problems involving many of the same individuals. We saw an opportunity to improve the effectiveness of the regional criminal justice system — to support the greater good today and for years to come.”

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