Staffing shortage prompts Mich. sheriff's office to move to online reporting system
The hope is that implementing the Citizen Online Reporting Portal will ease deputies' heavy workload and save the county money
By Elizabeth Brewer
TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — Early Tuesday morning, the Grand Traverse County Sheriff's Office went live with an online reporting system for non-emergency calls.
The hope is that implementing this Citizen Online Reporting Portal will ease deputies' heavy workload and save the county some money, road patrol Capt. Chris Clark said.
According to data from the sheriff's office, in the past 20 years their patrol force has increased by two deputies, while the county's population has increased by more than 18,000 residents.
Clark said this online reporting system will be a cost-effective way to address their current staffing shortages.
Based on his own research and estimates, the new portal may be able to handle from between 5 and 10 percent of all calls they receive, he said.
A two-year contract with the new online system vendor comes to $34,000. In comparison, the average salary of a first-year deputy can come to anywhere between $70,000 and $80,000 annually, according to Clark.
So the savings should be significant.
Since hiring the vendor about a year ago, they have spent the past 12 months training staff and personalizing the system to respond to the needs of this community, he said.
The idea for online reporting first came to him years ago.
Now other law enforcement agencies in the state, such as Kent County Sheriff's Office and the Flint Police Department, use similar reporting systems on their websites.
This system will be specifically used for six kinds of complaints — larceny, identity theft, larceny from a vehicle, damage to property, private property hit-and-run crashes, and lost property.
One example Clark used to illustrate how the new system will work is in the case of a stolen bike: A citizen can now go online, fill out the report and have it sent immediately to the command center. This way, the report will be ready faster, and the department can access other data from their records department to see if there have been any similar thefts in the same area.
In this hypothetical case, Clark said, the deputy who would have been taking that stolen bike call now will be able to respond faster to a higher priority call, such as an active domestic violence case.
"If there needs to be additional follow-up, the sergeants are reviewing them, and they can assign someone to that case, if needed," he said.
Another goal of this new reporting system is to give deputies time to work on cases that ultimately end in prosecution.
In the online form, people have an option to indicate a possible suspect in the crime they are reporting.
In these cases, they will be directed back to dispatchers. To select that option, Clark said, the citizen will have to know a specific name for the suspect, not just a physical description.
"So we're trying to evaluate all the cases we go to and we're saying, 'OK, we're going to take the ones that there's a good chance that we can get charges and prosecution and give ourselves more time to investigate those.'"
Clark said he anticipates some pushback. "You might get someone that doesn't have a smartphone or doesn't have internet service, or something like that," he noted.
But he said the positives will likely outweigh the negatives.
Starting Tuesday, Clark said, if a citizen called the dispatch center to report a larceny or fraud, dispatchers directed those callers to the online reporting system.
People also can access the online reporting system portal through the sheriff's office website under the "Services" tab or by calling 1-833-319-1926 from a smartphone, prompting a text message with a link to the portal to send.
"The nice thing about this system, too, is as we're evaluating it. We can always add to it or take away from it," Clark said.
Looking ahead, there is the potential to add other types of crime complaints to the new portal. But, he said, time will tell them what works best for the county and the community.
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