City getting hip to technology

DOWNEY - City officials have been initiating several changes as of late.From public records and building permits to code enforcement notices and community services information, officials have began a deliberate effort to upgrade city standards through technological advancements. Hoping to maximize efficiency and minimize human error, City Hall will soon computerize its records and link four separate departments together through integrated software. Similarly, the police department hopes to invest in a nearly $120,000 license plate recognition system, which will trace the license plates of cars traveling through the city. For Assistant City Manager Gilbert Livas, the use of advanced technology in city affairs is grounded in promoting efficiency and better service. "We want to make sure we produce the greatest service we can," said Livas, who praised the new permit-tracking software system, a product of Accela Inc. "Permits and plans will be turned in digitally and at the click of a button, the information is at your fingertips. It streamlines the process, takes less time and saves a lot of paper." The new software, which Livas estimates will launch next month, will track the movement of city-processed projects, from submittal to project completion. A striking change from the city's current process of manually issuing permits, a practice that uses much staff time and makes interdepartmental communications difficult. "There was a big push from our staff," said Livas. "When you hear what other industries are doing, you sort of want that - it's like going from carbon paper to word processor." At a cost of more than $647,000, the Accela program will be self-sustaining once it is launched, supported by records management fees. The new system will come just months after the city unveiled its new website, a change brought forth by the City Council and pushed forward by Council members Mario Guerra and Roger Brossmer. "We heard that the website needed to be more user-friendly," Livas said. "It's easy to get behind the eight-ball, but we wanted to provide better costumer service and do a better job promoting our services and local businesses." While the city enhances its records and website, the police department has also brought in new technology to help accomplish its highest priority. "Bottom line - it helps us find the bad guys," said Lieutenant Jim Heckel, who oversees the department's technology division. "The technology helps us solve criminal cases, it creates more leads." In order to boost its own efficiency, the Downey Police Department has increased its use of technology, computerizing dashboard cameras in every police car, in addition to requesting a license plate recognition system that will record license plates into a database for immediate recovery at any time. Utilizing a program produced by Coban Technologies Inc., the department wirelessly downloads into servers each digital in-car video filmed while officers patrol in their vehicles. "Immediately from my desk, I can watch almost all of what is done in the field," said Heckel in a phone interview. "It works well for us and takes away human perceptions - what they [officers] saw or didn't see - it's all being filmed." In the coming 2010-2011 fiscal year, police officials will request a license plate recognition system. As a part of the program, police cars will be outfitted with cameras that will read plates and record the time and location, helping officers to better track cars possibly involved in a crime. "Cars are involved in all kinds of cases," Heckel said. "License plate recognition can be helpful in solving these crimes." While Livas acknowledges the aversion to change that comes with such advancements, he maintains that city staff look forward to the changes, which will hopefully minimize mistakes and make the city more effective. "We are looking at, studying, and evaluating all of these things," said Livas. "It's all to get us to the point of being a modern, efficient city."

********** Published: April 23, 2010 - Volume 9 - Issue 1