Rutland County Sheriff Values Technological Advances
Rutland County Sheriff Stephen Benard has worked in law enforcement for 41 years. He is a Rutland native and started his career at the Ludlow Police Department. Benard joined the Rutland County Sheriff’s Office as a deputy in 1979. In 2004, he was elected Sheriff. Throughout his career, Benard has served on various committees and task forces. Most recently, he served as a member of the Governor’s Marijuana Advisory Commission.
How large is the Rutland County Sheriff's Office and what kind of calls do you respond to?
The department has a jurisdiction of more than 945 square miles of urban and rural areas. The department has 43 employees – 36 full and part-time deputies and a dispatching center. We average 6,435 calls per year. We provide patrol services to eight communities. Deputies respond to calls for domestic violence incidents, assaults, breaking and entering, larceny, intoxication, shoplifting, automobile accidents, license checks, traffic violations, funeral escorts, court bailiff, transports, civil process and more.
How have technological changes impacted your communication?
Our primary means of communication is LMR, with laptops and printers in the cruisers. Technological advances have proven a huge help in doing our jobs. For example, in the course of an investigation a deputy can request that a search warrant be issued through a judge. That request can be transmitted electronically to the judge. The judge can approve it and send the signed document back to the deputy in a cruiser. The deputy can print the search warrant in the cruiser. We now have a paper copy of the warrant, as required by law, to present to the home’s occupants when we arrive to perform the search. Without technological advances, such speed would not be possible. All our full-time patrol officers have cell phones subscribed to FirstNet and we are using nine Mi-Fi units to create mobile hotspots for connectivity. The texting function is used frequently. It is particularly useful to our dispatch supervisor who can transmit and receive as many as 200 texts in a day. We also use a separate mapping function through Verizon that is transmitted via the internet.
You were the first public safety department in Vermont to subscribe. Why?
We already had good AT&T coverage in our service area and the government service costs were very affordable. We are saving $350 a month compared to what we had been paying with another carrier. Having priority service and access to deployables were also important. In 2016, there was a large gathering in the national forest of 10,000 people called a Rainbow Gathering. In that location, communication was difficult. Our radios wouldn’t work. If we had access to a FirstNet deployable then, it would have been a big help with communication.
What applications are you using?
We are using the AT&T Enhanced Push-to-Talk service which mimics how your two-way radios work. We’ve set up talk groups to allow us to make group calls and contact everyone simultaneously with the push of a button. We have found there are areas where we have tough radio coverage, but our EPTT is functioning.
How do you see technology evolving to meet your communication needs in the next 10 years?
I think there will be a slow overtake of LMRs by cellular technology. We will see more integration of computers and the phone. Now we have CAD. We can take pictures from our cruiser camera and transfer that to our case files. Our officers today are serving in an environment that is becoming increasingly complex. Supervisors can better support officers in the field through streaming of the in-car cameras. During a chase situation or a confrontation in which an officer needs access to more information, we will be better able to offer that support.
Any advice for agencies considering FirstNet?
Subscribing to FirstNet is different than buying cell phones. You need to be familiar with what they offer and take advantage of the free training to learn how to use features. Don’t hesitate to ask for cost comparisons between Verizon and AT&T and become familiar with your options. Also, stay up-to-date on buildout plans. It all hinges on connectivity.