Police departments across Lancaster County are implementing newer, oftentimes costlier recordkeeping systems as a county-developed program is being phased out.
For nearly eight years, a record management system known as the Police Record Exchange has allowed Lancaster County police departments to keep track of investigative records such as names, dates and details of incidents in real-time.
However, the exchange, which only operates within the county, will end in October 2020.
The plan to end the system has been in the works for years to allow time for police departments to transition to other services, county Commissioner Josh Parsons said. He said county police chiefs were consulted.
Scope and cost
Providing the service isn’t a requirement for the county, Parsons noted in an email to LNP, but the county information technology department “dedicates a lot of time and County resources to these police services,” adding they are “happy to support them.”
But Parson said the reason to end the police exchange stems from the ever-evolving scope of such systems, which require security and technical enhancements beyond what the county normally provides.
“My understanding is that running them in-house by county IT is no longer practical,” Parsons said.
Another factor has been cost. According to 2016 analysis conducted by the Lancaster County IT department, over $127,000 was spent that year on technical support costs for police services. Of that amount, more than $76,000 was support costs for the police exchange alone.
In addition, a yearslong system upgrade to the police records system cost the county over $800,000, according to the Maggie Weidinger, the county's director of IT and budget services.
Police departments adjust
In 2015, 18 Lancaster County law enforcement agencies relied on the technology to keep track of its incidents, according to county commissioners minutes. Several still use the system today, including Mount Joy Police Department, although it is working to move to another provider by the first half of 2019, according to Chief Bill Williams.
The cost to use the county records system has been “extremely cost-effective” for his department, Williams said, adding he’d rather keep the program.
Several police departments, including Manheim Township, Ephrata and Mount Joy have either already transitioned or are transitioning to new record management systems from private companies.
While the arrangement has not been finalized, costs for a new system could nearly quadruple for Mount Joy police.
The department pays about $1,800 annually to the county to utilize its police records system, according to Williams, but one potential, multi-year agreement between the department and New Jersey-based CSI Technology Group could run more than $8,000 annually.
Even as police departments decide on what record management systems to pursue, one issue they will contend with is how to share information with each other as the records management ecosystem continues to fragment.
“It was always assumed police department (records management system) info was just shared with one another; that’s just not true,” said district attorney spokesman Brett Hambright in an email to LNP.
To get ahead of the issue, the Lancaster County district attorney’s office partnered with Pottstown-based CODY Systems for its COBRA.net program, which bridges different record management systems to view each other’s information.
The system, which launched in Lancaster County in November 2017, also comes at a cost — $2,000 per year per department — but had first-year costs covered through a grant secured by the district attorney’s office. Fifteen departments have signed onto COBRA.net as of Sept. 26.
At least two Lancaster County police departments are considering switching to one record system, InfoShare, which has not shared data with COBRA.net, confirmed CODY spokesperson Maggie Riker, though she added the company would “attempt to work out the connection,” for any inquiring agencies.
“I have been an advocate for many years to get all our departments on one (records management system),” Lancaster County District Attorney Craig Stedman said in a June news release.
“However, it became apparent that was not going to take place, so the CODY COBRA bridge offers a great solution and will not only improve investigations but could well save one or more lives,” he said.