Biloxi, Gulfport Not Tied To Federal Police Computers

When Pass Christian dispatchers used to get a call, they would grab a pen and start writing. A week ago, that changed.

"Our handwriting has stopped," laughed communications director Gloria Sanders.

Pass Christian just took advantage of a federal grant that brought the Mississippi Automated System Project to law enforcement agencies in the three coastal counties.

"It really has brought us up to speed with other agencies," said Sanders. "And we have a small department. We were way behind."

So far, Gulfport and Biloxi are the only coast cities not experimenting with this law enforcement technology.

Gulfport chief Steve Barnes says he endorses the concept of linking agencies through this federal program. But he won't commit to it until he sees the system up and running, and until it proves it can do more than his current computer system.

Long Beach police tested the system, and found some problems with it.  So this week, system designers came to the coast.  And the chief said they worked out every problem to the police department's satisfaction.

Biloxi is holding a special meeting about the automated system on Thursday. Councilman Tom Wall thinks the issue is a no brainer.

"This makes our police force more effective," he said. "This is homeland security.  This is law enforcement.  These are things that are going to make our country safer."

Yet the city's adminstration is worried about who pays for the system once the grant runs out. That's why Biloxi hasn't signed paperwork to log onto its part of the $25 million grant yet.

Project coordinator Julian Allen said once the grant funding ended, law enforcement agencies would have two options. They could put the computers in their budgets, or they could simply get rid of them.

Allen believes the computers are a must for top quality protection in the three coastal counties.

"The way we solve crimes," he said, "is number one, the bad guys start understanding that these districts are so dang bland well technologically connected, that I can't hardly blow my nose over here without the guy in the next jurisdiction hearing about it."

The federal grant pays for this real time computer technology until January 2009.

Mississippi's public safety director and its homeland security director both endorsed the automated computer system. They're going to Washington next week, to see whether it's possible for every state law enforcement group to log onto the system.