Council approves police GPS

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Request made to purchase $26,000 software

By Denyse Clark

Lancaster City Council approved a request for police department software at the Dec. 10 meeting. However, a recommendation for a GPS tracking system for 132 city vehicles was put on hold until the first of the year.

Lancaster Police Chief Harlean Howard made a request to purchase “booking” software for $26,000. She said the software will help the police department keep track of the number of arrests of an individual and is necessary to be compliant with state records requirements. 

“It’s software we need to be fully functional and move forward in this century,” she told the council. “This is something we definitely have to have.”

After a brief discussion among the council regarding the price and immediate need of the software, Howard apologized for the oversight from a previous funding submission but explained this request was a necessity. 

“Regarding the whole issue around booking, we did not realize we had not included it in the package,” she said. “Later, we realized we needed this.”

City administrator Helen Sowell reiterated that point.

“It was simply an oversight,” Sowell said. “It’s hard to get to the penny on what you’re going to need.”

Councilman John Howard commented on the request.

“Twenty-six thousand dollars is not going to break us,” he said. “Every now and then you miss something.”

The council voted unanimously to approve the request for the software.

GPS system

Sowell provided an introduction for a presentation by IT manager Jarvis Driggers who recommended a GPS tracking system for the city’s work vehicle fleet. 

“We had not found a company to do what we needed at a price we could afford,” Sowell said.

She said in 2004 the city purchased a tracking system but “it did not work well.”

Driggers addressed bonuses of the proposed Vestige GPS Fleet Management Solutions system which include pin pointing the location of a vehicle up to 10 feet of where it is parked, improving driver safety by identifying driver behavior such as speeding and providing email alerts if a vehicle idles in one location for too long.

He said the “user friendly” tracking system would be used for 132 city vehicles. Department supervisors could receive a report every two minutes about the status of the vehicle. Also Vestige is “Carolina-focused” and partners with Verizon Wireless, Driggers told the council.

“It’s great to have someone local,” he said. “The cell coverage is good, there’s never a dead spot.” 

The system can identify the city’s entire fleet of vehicles on one map in real time, Driggers added.

The Vestige GPS Fleet Management Solutions system could be leased or purchased by the city under a three-year plan – the maximum life span, Driggers said. The three-year lease would cost $95,040 and the purchase price for the three-year plan is $115,464 with a $31,000 upgrade fee every third year.

Several department supervisors addressed the council in support of the tracking system.

Sanitation and Maintenance Director Marty Cauthen said an issue for him was “efficiency” but safety was another concern. Cauthen said he has trucks that regularly travel to Pageland and into Lee County.

“I’m always concerned about speed and this can help us with that,” he said. “It’s a good system and cheaper than anything we’ve looked at.”

Public Works Director Jerry Crockett said he constantly gets complaint calls about his drivers speeding.

“Sometimes it’s not our trucks at all,” he said.

He said other trucks in the county are the same model and have “the same look.”

Crockett said this system also would be beneficial because he has “no connection” with trucks from his department that are out at night.

“We’re not being ‘Big Brother’ but we have to know where our trucks are,” he said. “We can decide to continue on the honor system but we have to look at the cost of overtime and safety issues.”

Lancaster Fire Chief Chuck Small has been driving city vehicles for 20 years and has realized the “Big Red Rose” on the side of city vehicles is “a target for lawsuits,”  he said. He believes the tracking system will stop many residents’ complaints and quell rumors about excessive speed.

“I’ve heard the rumors about police officers driving down the street at 100 miles per hour,” he said. 

Small said the tracking system is a good investment to help prove or disprove the rumors.

“It (the tracking system) amazed me when we looked at it,” he said. “I definitely think it’s a plus for any fleet.”

Chief Howard said safety is a major concern for her because sometimes police officers are attacked.

“We need to know where our officers are,” she said. “This will help us prove or disprove information from the general public. I’m definitely in favor of it!”

Driggers said the system could be installed in about three weeks and Sowell added there’s a non-failing feature in this tracking system.

“If unplugged, it reports that too,” she said. “It’s pretty foolproof.”

Councilman Gonzie Mackey asked Driggers if department heads could pick certain vehicles to have the tracking system installed in instead of all 132 vehicles of the city’s fleet. Driggers said this was an option that had been discussed.

“For me, it’s all about accountability,” said Councilwoman Tamara Green Garris. “It’s important for supervisors to know where their people are.”

Councilman Howard, chair of the city finance committee, expressed concern about making a hasty decision to approve the tracking system.

“It looks good, sounds good but it’s nothing we have to act on tonight,” he said. “It sounds like a good program – I can see the importance of it but I’d feel a lot better if I could see the impact it would have on the various funds.”

The council voted unanimously to address the issue again at it’s January 2014 meeting. 


Contact reporter Denyse Clark at (803) 283-1152