Skip to main content

The City Journals

Every second counts: Increasing effective communication for first responders

Jun 19, 2019 03:17PM ● By Cassie Goff

The goal of many police and fire departments throughout the valley is to convert to a single system so officers can search all over the valley. Officers do not currently have this option. (Cassie Goff/City Journals)

By Cassie Goff | [email protected]

Efficient communication is a goal for many, including the Salt Lake Valley first responders. For years, many police and fire departments have been trying to integrate their communications onto one system. Many cities have already passed, or are considering, an agreement to move police communications onto a shared computer-aided dispatch. 

Currently, many police and fire communications are internal within departments, which means that officers on a call can only search information within their city. 

“Each municipality houses their own records. It’s inefficient,” said Cottonwood Heights Police Chief Robby Russo. 

 “The goal is to convert to a single system so officers can search all over the valley, including the jail, which officers cannot do currently,” said Russo. This goal is shared by many, if not all, police and fire departments locally. This would be a huge benefit for officers and firefighters when searching information while out on a call. Additionally, it would be beneficial for investigators. 

Many police departments throughout the valley use Salt Lake Valley Emergency Communications Center (VECC) for dispatch services. Those departments include Cottonwood Heights, Draper, Murray, South Jordan, South Salt Lake, West Jordan, West Valley, Riverton and Herriman. 

The Unified Police Department of Greater Salt Lake (UPD) (which consists of Copperton, Magna, Kearns, and White City townships as well as the cities of Holladay, Midvale, Millcreek, Taylorsville, and Salt Lake County) moved their dispatch operations to VECC approximately six months ago as well.

Through VECC, there are multiple options available for dispatching software for the local police and fire departments. Many police departments are proposing to switch to use a software called Versaterm for computer aided dispatch. 

The Herriman and Riverton Police Departments were the first to move their dispatching operations to Versaterm, as they have seceded from UPD and are working on making their police services independent.  Sandy is already using Verasterm as well, as they are being dispatched by Salt Lake City. 

Draper followed their lead and signed off on the proposal to switch, as of May 14 when the city council approved the Use of Records Management System and Related Systems & Services Agreement. It states that “Draper is utilizing Valley Emergency Communications Center (VECC) for the Versaterm Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD).” 

A handful of neighboring police departments intend to follow Draper’s lead, including Taylorsville, Midvale, Millcreek and Cottonwood Heights. Murray and South Jordan are still discussing if the switch needs to be made or if they should stick with Spillman. Lastly, West Valley will most likely not switch, since the Spillman office is physically located within their city. 

“It makes a lot of sense to move in this direction,” said Cottonwood Heights City Manager Tim Tingey. 

Currently, the Cottonwood Heights Police Department uses a dispatching software called Spillman. On June 3, Russo proposed an agreement to the city council that would move the dispatching services from Spillman to Verasterm. This switch would allow the CHPD officers to be on the same dispatching system as the UPD officers. Additionally, the agreement would allow radio channels to be shared between Cottonwood Heights and Holladay.  

“It puts us on their system for records, dispatch and mobile,” said Russo. 

However, this switch isn’t ideal for fire services throughout the valley. “Our concern is that the computer aided dispatch we have been using was never designed for fire,” said Unified Fire Authority (UFA) Assistant Chief Mike Watson. “We want to solve that problem in the long term. We need an automatic vehicle locator to send the closer unit no matter what the agency is.”

The fire chiefs, especially those with UFA (which covers the townships of Copperton, Emigration, Kearns, Magna, White City; the cities of Alta, Cottonwood Heights, Eagle Mountain, Herriman, Holladay, Midvale, Riverton, Taylorsville; and the unincorporated areas of Salt Lake County), are supportive of the police departments switching to Verasterm, as long as they are “solving a short-term problem and can stay with the long-term solution with the fire guys,” said Watson. 

This new short-term solution results from attempting to put all of the appropriate police and fire departments on a software called Hexagon for years. After paying Hexagon out of many departments’ 2017 budgets, Hexagon continuously missed deadlines and did not perform as promised. Currently, Hexagon is in mediation trying to resolve the issues without a lawsuit.