Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri realized the benefits of uniting the county’s law enforcement agencies and first responders following the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Gualtieri spent a significant amount of time reviewing the tragedy during his role as chair of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission, created by the Florida Legislature less than a month after the shooting on March 9, 2018. State leadership mandated the commission to meet until July 1, 2023.
During Tuesday’s commission meeting, Clearwater Police Chief Dan Slaughter said that experience led local law enforcement agencies to realize the benefits of having all of the county’s emergency services utilize a singular computer-aided dispatch (CAD) platform.
“This was a project that all of the chiefs came together with collaboration from Jim Fogarty from the regional 911 center – as well as the fire chiefs – and began discussing this several years ago,” said Slaughter.
“There is no singular entity or person that has made this come together; it truly has been a full collaboration.”
County commissioners unanimously approved an interlocal agreement between the Cities of Clearwater, Largo, Pinellas Park, St. Petersburg and Tarpon Springs, the Pinellas Safety and Emergency Services Department and the Sheriff’s Office. The pact created the Pinellas Regional Information Management Enterprise (PRIME) to integrate various information systems used by emergency response agencies throughout the county.
First responders throughout the county will now operate through advanced integrated technology and standardized reporting methods.
“We’ve developed this document that’s before you today that creates basically the administrative entity that would manage such a product so that we can make sure that all of the interests of each of the local governments are protected,” said Slaughter. “We are really proud of the collaboration that has occurred.”
PRIME will provide expanded information management tools and real-time traffic routing to improve response times and operational awareness for area emergency services. Integration between municipalities like Clearwater and St. Petersburg supports collaborative data sharing and increases first responders’ access to “critical spatial data.”
For the public, Slaughter said the greatest value is a piece of mind when calling 911. He believes “we all have anxiety and angst” regarding the process of transferring calls to other agencies. Residents and officials must often repeat previously provided information, decreasing efficiency and response times.
“Now, with the singular CAD system, we will see exactly what they’ve already provided, and we can just kind of … pick up right where they left off,” said Slaughter. “So, I think that’s truly the value-add that will be public-facing the customer.”
Commissioner Janet Long noted that county officials have discussed the project for a long time and put in a lot of work to see it to fruition. She also asked if there was the potential for expansion.
Slaughter said the new CAD system is a holistic solution. However, he believes opportunities for improved processes will arise as the agencies begin to understand the full capacity of PRIME and comfort levels with the program increase.
Long added that she is happy that the county’s police and fire departments are all on the same page for the first time. Looking toward the “really big picture,” she asked if there are discussions to expand the program throughout the Tampa Bay region.
“Absolutely,” said Slaughter. “And many of the leaders in neighboring jurisdictions in Hillsborough County have had some of those conversations with us as well.
“They’re watching us, and hopefully, we can be the first brick …”
Commissioner Kathleen Peters asked why the county did not include its law enforcement agencies, using Gulfport as an example. “Gulfport is small, but Gulfport has a school,” she said.
Slaughter explained that the Sheriff’s Office provides many of the resources for the county’s smaller jurisdictions, and they will also utilize the PRIME system under that purview.
At a May 26 workshop, commissioners agreed to transfer $9.3 million in funding to the Sheriff’s Office for the system’s initial cost over the interlocal agreement’s first two years. The agreement’s initial term is for five years and will automatically renew for successive one-year terms for a total of 10 years.
After the initial funding, Slaughter said the county would cover its portion of operational costs, around $2.5 million annually. “The product is essentially costing no more than our regular maintenance costs for most of us,” he added.
“This is one of those – it seems real technical when you look at the language and everything,” said Commission Chair Charlie Justice in closing. “But it is a really big deal, as far as making things more efficient and providing better public safety for our citizens.
“I’m excited about what we’re doing today.”