Episode 51: FirstNet Powers Mission Critical Capabilities for Delaware Police Officers
Lori Stone, FirstNet Authority Senior Public Safety Advisor
Lieutenant Edward Huey, Milford Police Department, Delaware
Narrator: You're listening to Public Safety First, a podcast to help you learn about the First Responder Network Authority and how you can be part of the future of public safety technology.
And now, your host.
Lori Stone: Hello, and welcome to the Public Safety First podcast. I’m Lori Stone, a Senior Public Safety Advisor with the First Responder Network Authority. Today, I’m chatting with Lieutenant Edward Huey about how his agency, the Milford Police Department, is using FirstNet in Delaware. Good morning, Lieutenant, and thank you so much for joining us. Could you tell us a little bit about your background and what you do for the Milford Police Department?
Lieutenant Edward Huey: So, my name is Lieutenant Ed Huey. I'm with the Milford, Delaware, Police Department. I've been in law enforcement since 1986. So, this will be my 35th year of service.
I started off at a smaller agency in southern Delaware and eventually came home to my place of birth. I've been serving in Milford since 1989. I have served in roles of patrol, did a stint in the drug unit, a small stint in the CI division, accreditation, I was assigned for several years as a D.A.R.E. instructor in our elementary schools and then onto a specialized community policing unit.
I was present at the Milford Police Department when our very first personal computer was moved into the building. And we have grown in technology since then, where there is a computer in every office and every car. So, it's been a great experience to go through that thirty plus years of watching the department transition to a digital age.
Lori Stone: You mentioned Milford, you were born there. Tell us a little about the city and what your police department does.
Lieutenant Edward Huey: So, in my tenure here at Milford Police Department, the city went through a growth spurt during the housing boom. The city almost doubled in size. So, we're about 12 or 13 square miles with a population of about 14,000 people and a police department of 37 sworn officers.
Lori Stone: What are some of the most common crimes or calls for service that you have?
Lieutenant Edward Huey: As with everywhere, there's a drug problem, especially with the opioid epidemic. We went through the crack cocaine epidemic, as well. And having those problems obviously leads to a lot of theft and assaults and things like that. So, those are major issues that we face still to this day.
Lori Stone: So, your department's been using FirstNet for two years now. Tell us, what led you to FirstNet and using this network?
Lieutenant Edward Huey: So, we were one of the first agencies to implement dash cams in our patrol cars, and we went from having one that was powered by VCR tapes where they had to be changed daily at each shift change. We move to a product that allowed us to pull up to the station and use a WiFi connection to download those cameras and eventually to an Axon body camera and dash camera system where each car is equipped with a front and back camera along with the officer's body camera.
When we first went to that system, we started noticing some of our patrol cars, the computers weren't working. They were very, very slow to load. They wouldn't access any of the mission critical software that we would use for issuing traffic tickets or traffic warnings. We couldn't do crime reports in the car. The officers were having to come back to the station to get on a computer to complete their paperwork. And it got to the point where nothing in the cars would work to the point where guys would take one car out on patrol and then have to come back to the station about midway through their shift to try to find another car that hadn't used as much data for the month so that their mission-critical software would work. We average for our patrol cars about 37 gigs per patrol car a month.
So, we started exploring around and our chief was familiar with FirstNet. We reached out to them, asked about their program. And instantly when we put the SIM cards in the Cradlepoint routers and the machines went live, we noticed a huge difference.
Lori Stone: Lieutenant Huey, tell me why these cars are using 37 gigs average a month. What's your department doing?
Lieutenant Edward Huey: Delaware is a very blessed state in that we use a statewide crime reporting software. Everyone uses the same software. It all gets put into the same repository. So, every agency in the state has access. They can see what's going on in the neighboring jurisdictions. So, we operate with a common picture. So, all of our mission critical software is provided to us by the state, whether it is e-traffic tickets, e-crashes, e-warnings, and electronic crime reporting software, accessing the databases to get that information from our Department of Motor Vehicles for license checks, accessing NCIC for wanted person checks, accessing the DELJIS, which is the Delaware Justice Information System, for information regarding people's criminal history, their wanted status locally and things like that.
And additionally, in each of our patrol cars, there's a front-facing 4K camera. There's a rear-facing 4K camera. And then the officers are all equipped with body cameras. The body cameras and the dash cams are probably the biggest users of bandwidth and storage. Those are large files. I think the average traffic stop lasts about ten minutes. And the entire time all three of those cameras are running. They pick up about 30 seconds before the traffic unit's lights are activated and then they continue to record for about 30 seconds after it's off. Because of those three cameras burning at the same time, that data is moved to the mobile data terminal and then uploaded through the internet from our AT&T FirstNet connection. And that's a lot of gigs of data that's being uploaded just by the cameras alone.
Lori Stone: Your department seems to be really on the leading edge, I would say, of having these videos. And that takes a lot of data. When we get to FirstNet and your data usage, how important is it to have this unthrottled, uninterrupted connection?
Lieutenant Edward Huey: As I said before, everything that we do is electronic now. In the old days where you handwrote a traffic ticket, you handwrote a traffic warning, you handwrote an accident report or crash report, you handwrote a crime report. Now, that is all done electronically, all submitted to the State Bureau of Identification and then eventually transferred on to the FBI for UCR [Uniform Crime Reporting] data analysis. So, without the electronic connections, we'd be dead in the water. Delaware, a few years ago, mandated to us that we would start using electronic e-ticket software. You have to have a special waiver on file with the court if you handwrite a ticket explaining why your mobile data terminal did not work or why your car was not equipped at the time.
One of the things about Milford is we are on a pathway between Pennsylvania, good portions of New Jersey to the Delaware and Maryland beaches of Rehoboth Beach, which is a nationwide known resort area. Ocean City, Maryland, the same thing. So, we have two major highways that run through our city.
So, there's quite a bit of traffic in here, through here. We do run a lot of radar on those two highways. So, each of those traffic tickets are done electronically. That's all just mission-critical things that we're doing. Without that connection, that would not get accomplished.
Lori Stone: Is there any experiences that you've had working with the FirstNet team to identify other technical solutions or capabilities?
Lieutenant Edward Huey: So, interestingly enough, probably about six or eight months after we moved to the FirstNet network, we experienced an outage. But it wasn't just the AT&T network, it was other carriers as well. It was a statewide issue. I actually received a call from our FirstNet representative who informed me what was going on. And we never did hear from the other vendor that does carry some of our cell phones. But AT&T reached out to us and said during a construction job, a backhoe had dug through a fiber line. This fiber line fed a number of towers that were not only used by AT&T, but other cellular vendors as well. And the repair for that was going to take probably three days. We were quite understanding about why it was going to take so long. But we were having some concerns about not being able to do mission critical work for three days. And without hesitation, without even asking that question, FirstNet offered us these things called deployables. They have these trucks that use a different form of connection versus the fiber lines through a cellular antenna. I believe it's satellite. But they could bring those down and set those up, and we would be back in business again. And we were very, very impressed with that. We did not end up taking them up on that offer. They were able to get the fiber lines fixed much faster than they thought. But the offer to bring those trucks down and have us back in business was just phenomenal to us, understanding, you know, how serious a fiber line cut is. That was just phenomenal that they offered that without us even reaching out to them. We were just very thoroughly impressed with the customer service that was offered to us to get us back online and operating again.
Lori Stone: So, what I'm hearing is it's the stable connection, it's the large bandwidth available, it's the customer service -- all of these have had a significant impact on your operations. What would you say is one of the most beneficial features of FirstNet for officers in the field?
Lieutenant Edward Huey: So, in a crisis situation, if the cell towers become overloaded with users – we find this a lot with some of our nor'easter storms that occur here on the Atlantic shoreline. They're very similar to hurricanes, lots of rain, lots of wind and lots of family members checking on each other by the use of cell phones. And so, sometimes those, those kinds of events will overburden the towers and it makes it difficult for communications to occur. You'll get busy signals on your cellular devices. But FirstNet offers us what's called preemption. It's kind of like the devices on the ambulances that turn the traffic light green in the direction that the ambulance is headed and turns traffic light red in all the other directions so that the ambulances can get through. But what this does is it allows those first responders that have an emergency and immediate need to communicate via a cellular device to get through ahead of just the normal standard user.
That is a huge, huge feature when you're trying to manage an emergency or crisis situation. And thankfully, we've not had to use that that we know of. It may have occurred because it worked seamlessly. We don't have to ask for it to be turned on. It's already built into the system. We've always been able to communicate back and forth among the executive staff or the emergency management staff when an event occurs. We've not noticed any inability to communicate while we've been using FirstNet either in the cars or in our, on our cell phones as well.
Lori Stone: What would you say to a colleague in another law enforcement department? What message would you want to give somebody in your shoes in another agency, in Delaware or across the country, about FirstNet?
Lieutenant Edward Huey: With police work, integrity is everything, in the fire service, in the ambulance service. Integrity is everything. You have to be honest. And with FirstNet, we found that they've been upfront and honest with us about everything. They maintain their integrity, their customer service is outstanding. When we did have the crisis with the fiber line being cut, we didn't have to reach out to them for assistance. They reached out to us and offered the assistance and offered us solutions. They didn't just bring us a problem. They brought us a solution for our problem, which I can't say enough good about that. As an officer in the executive staff of the police department, we instill into our subordinate officers – don't just bring us the problem, bring us a solution. And FirstNet does that for us. So, if you want a steady connection, if you want your mission critical software to work, if you want your body cameras to seamlessly load up and be available for immediate view, I would strongly recommend switching over to FirstNet.
Lori Stone: Well, Lieutenant Huey, this has been a great conversation. Thank you for taking the time to share your experiences with us.
Narrator: Thanks for listening today. We're excited to have you join our podcast community. Make sure to subscribe on iTunes, SoundCloud, and YouTube. You can learn more about the First Responder Network Authority at FirstNet.gov and learn about FirstNet products and services at FirstNet.com.