MONTPELIER — The Vermont State Police and other agencies within the Department of Public Safety are expanding information sharing and data analysis to help first responders do a better job in the field, the commissioner of the Department of Public Safety said Tuesday.
The changes that are in the works will include everything from expanding information sharing between different branches of government, using data to measure the success of how that information is shared and preparing the next head of the state police for the role he won’t assume for over a year, Commissioner Keith Flynn said.
It will be done with a combination of technology, including a soon-to-be released state police app for the public, and new ways of thinking, Flynn said.
“It’s a big deal for Vermonters because we’re looking at some changes in how business has usually been done,” said Flynn, who mentioned the changes during a state police promotion ceremony last week at the State House in Montpelier.
“We’re recognizing that we have to do what we can within the scope of our means,” he said. “In order to do that it means you have to look at new innovative approaches where we’re going to get the best return for our dollar.”
Increased information sharing could mean, for example, being able to tell a trooper on the way to a call if the subject has a history with the Department of Corrections or known mental health challenges.
It is being done with a number of different computer programs and systems and other resources, including an improved communications system.
Deputy Public Safety Commissioner Francis Aumand said that over the last 10 years the state has spent about $15 million on technology upgrades, including $12 million on a new communication system with most of the money coming from the federal government.
Another area within Public Safety, but not necessarily the state police, could be having the blueprints of major buildings stored so they could be used by first responders in the event of a fire or other emergency.
One of the most visible changes was the promotion of State Police Lt. Col. Matthew Birmingham, who is being prepared to become director of the state police when Col. Tom L’Esperance retires. That is expected to be next year, Flynn said.
Birmingham, a 16-year state police veteran, would become one of the organization’s youngest leaders. He understands the need for new ways of thinking, Flynn said.
“He will be one of the youngest colonels in the state police,” Flynn said. “He will bring an enthusiasm that will be equal to what Tom brings and with that enthusiasm, whenever you change people, there is an opportunity for change.”
State Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, said some of the changes had been discussed in the Judiciary Committee he chairs, noting there had been some concern about the possible intrusive use of technology by law enforcement, such as license plate readers, but he hadn’t heard that discussed.
“If it’s used to get bad guys, it’s hard to have a problem with it,” Sears said.
And one of the complaints in the ongoing troubles with the Department for Children and Families has been a lack of information sharing.
“There’s been a lot of conversation with the Department of Public Safety and with others about data,” Sears said. “We need to get up with the times.”
Flynn said that in 2013, state police troopers drove about 6.6 million miles and responded to almost 58,000 calls for service. They’re expecting almost 60,000 calls this year.
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