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Public Hearing on Unified Communications Center

Tuesday, April 16, 2002
Statement from the Metropolitan Police Department

Charles H. Ramsey
Chief of Police
Metropolitan Police Department

On April 16, 2002, Chief Charles H. Ramsey delivered the following testimony to the DC Council Committe on the Judiciary, Kathy Patterson, Chair.

Madame Chair, members of the Committee, staff and guests – I appreciate the opportunity to testify before the Committee today on this critical public safety project. Deputy Mayor Kellems has laid out the rationale, goals and benefits of the Unified Communications Center. I will focus my remarks on how the UCC will further enhance police communications within our city.

I firmly believe that the UCC is the logical – and necessary – next step in our ongoing efforts to improve police emergency and non-emergency communications. We have already made substantial progress in this area, and the UCC will provide the technological, operation and administrative platform for allowing us to continue moving forward.

Last summer, as you know, police communications moved out of our old and horribly antiquated facility on the sixth floor of the Municipal Center and moved into the Public Safety Communications Center on McMillan Drive, Northwest. This move represented a significant step forward in a number of areas:

  • We replaced an old and outdated telephone switching system – one that was no longer supported by vendor and that was prone to dropping calls – with a new, state-of-the-art telephone system for 9-1-1 and 3-1-1.This system includes a new automated call distributor that has improved reliability and efficiency.

  • We successfully transferred a new Computer-Aided Dispatch system that had been installed at our old facility, but became fully functional in the PSCC, with Police and Fire/EMS working from a common CAD system. We are now in the processing of developing new management reports from both the ACD and CAD systems that will enable supervisors to more closely and regularly monitor staffing and workload.
  • We moved our personnel out of a facility that was too hot in the summer, too cold in the winter, and ill-equipped and cramped throughout the year. We replaced this truly abominable work environment with a modern communications facility, containing ergonomically designed furniture, state-of-the-art light and sound engineering, and other workplace amenities that are improving efficiency and empoyee morale.
  • And, for the first with the PSCC, we co-located police and Fire/EMS communications personnel on a single floor, using common technology and providing the ability for face-to-face communications when needed.

While certainly an important step forward, the opening of the PSCC did not solve all of the communications challenges confronting the MPD. Adequate staffing remains a serious challenge. And there are a number of business process improvements that we know must be implemented if we are to provide our customers with the type of “gold standard” service they need and deserve. I believe the UCC will enable to move much closer to that goal.

For the MPD, the UCC would provide the following benefits:

With additional space, new technology and business process re-engineering, the UCC would allow us to segregate emergency and non-emergency call-taking functions for the first time. This will mean a dedicated corps of 9-1-1 call-takers who would be able to answer calls more quickly and work with individual callers more extensively. Right now, all 9-1-1 and 3-1-1 calls come into the same pool of call-takers, with 9-1-1 calls given priority. Still, if all call-takers are busy and the “next” call that comes in to the PSCC is a 9-1-1 emergency, that call may be put on hold. With the UCC and the creation of dedicated 9-1-1 call-takers, we hope to dramatically reduce – or even eliminate – this problem.

The UCC will allow us to implement universal call-takers who will be cross-trained in police, fire and emergency medical services. This will allow us to maximize our resources and save valuable time in not having to “hot-transfer” calls from the initial police call-taker to the Fire/EMS call-taker, as is done now.

The UCC will allow us to take full advantage of future developments in communications technology. The Center will enable us to grow and innovate as the next generation of communications systems comes along.

The UCC will mean further workplace improvements for our dedicated call-takers and dispatchers. As much as the PSCC represented a quantum leap forward, the UCC will allow us to meet additional needs of our employees, including the possibility of on-site child care. Working in a major city public safety communication facility is a high-stress, high-burnout job, which explains part of our difficulty in attracting and maintaining employees. We owe these committed employees all of the reasonable comforts and accommodations we can provide them. The UCC is an important step in that direction.

Finally, the UCC will allow the police to better coordinate with other agencies – inside the District government and outside – on both managing major events in our city and processing non-emergency calls for service. The command and control facilities envisioned in the new facility will be invaluable for multi-agency coordination in the post-September 11th environment. As importantly, the consolidation of non-emergency calls that currently come into the MPD and other city agencies will enable us to more efficiently and effectively receive, track and respond to those non-emergency requests, many of which cross agency boundaries. Doing a better job of handling these calls will enable us to do a better job of community policing and quality-of-life enforcement.

In short, the UCC will enable the MPD to better manage our emergency call volume, while at the same time allowing us to respond more effectively to those relatively minor crime and disorder problems that impact our communities.

As excited as I am by the prospects of a new UCC, the MPD is not waiting around for a new facility to be built before some of these reforms are implemented. Our Department is moving aggressively to plan for and implement a number of operational and administrative upgrades prior to the move to the UCC. For example,

  • We have begun to review and upgrade our Standard Operating Procedures in a number of operational and administrative areas, to ensure they are current and comprehensive.

  • We have already begun a major program of re-training our personnel. Communications staff recently completed customer service training, and will receive training in other areas as well.
  • We have begun to examine dispatch priorities, radio communications protocols and other key business processes. For example, we are beginning to research and develop procedures that will enable Communications personnel to dispatch non-emergency calls directly to mobile digital computers in our squad cars. This will reduce voice traffic on our radio system and serve to improve our response to true emergencies.
  • We are also moving forward with new staffing plans. The MPD currently has eight new civilian communications workers in training, with seven more in the hiring process. In addition, we recently detailed 20 limited-duty police officers to augment our civilian personnel there. Attracting and keeping qualified personnel is a top priority, and the opening of the UCC will support these efforts.

These and other operational and administrative upgrades will be developed and tested at the PSCC, so that we will be able to move into the UCC with key systems already tested and in place. And, of course, the PSCC will continue to serve as a backup facility, once the UCC opens.

In closing, I want to re-emphasize that for the MPD, the UCC is much more than a building – although the building itself will provide important features that will enhance security and employee productivity. The UCC is much more than new technology – although the technological platform it offers will help improve our operations, now and into the future. And the UCC is much more than a new way of doing business – although our planned business process improvements should produce tangible results for our customers. What the UCC represents is an opportunity – an opportunity to make important improvements in emergency and non-emergency communications in the short term, and an opportunity to continue building and improving into the future.

Thank you very much.