Police officers in San Jose, California, experienced a number of problems with a new mobile dispatch system that included a Windows-based touch-screen computer in every patrol car. Routine tasks were difficult to perform, and the essential call for assistance was considered needlessly complicated.
The new system, costing $4.7 million, was an off-the-shelf system purchased from Intergraph Corp. It replaced a 14-year-old text-based system that was custom developed.
Initially, the system was unstable, periodically crashing a day or two after installation and down for the next several days.
At the request of the San Jose police union, a user-interface design consulting firm was brought in to evaluate the new system. A number of errors were discovered in the system, including inaccurate map information, screens cluttered with unnecessary information, difficult-to-read onscreen type, and difficult-to-perform basic tasks, such as license plate checks. In addition, the police officers themselves were not consulted about the design of the interface.
Many users felt that the Windows desktop GUI with its complex hierarchical menu structure was not suitable for in-vehicle use. While driving, officers found that the repeated taps on the screen required to complete tasks were very distracting, and one officer crashed his vehicle into a parked car because of the distraction of working with the system.
Further complicating the transition to the new system was the bare-bones training program. Just three hours of training were given on a desktop system, using track pads on the keyboards, not the 12-inch touch screen that would be found in the patrol cars.
After the rocky start, the software vendor worked closely with the city of San Jose to fix bugs and smooth out work flows. It seems clear, however, that the rollout could have been much easier if the officers and dispatchers had been involved in planning the system in the first place.

If you were involved in the acquisition of a new system for the police force in your community, what steps could you take to ensure the success of the project?

  • CreatedMarch 13, 2013
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