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Blog // Connect Ohio

Washington County Sheriff's Broadband Story

By Lyndsey Kleven

Washington County Sheriff Larry R. Mincks spoke to Connect Ohio about the lack of high-speed Internet access throughout the county and the effects it has on his deputies and public safety.

Connect Ohio research illustrates the significant impact of high-speed Internet availability in the work place, with broadband-connected businesses in Ohio bringing in $200,000 more in median annual revenue than those who do not use Internet. For the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, the lack of countywide Internet access isn’t an issue of lost revenue, rather a concern about the protection of the deputies and well-being of county residents.

The Washington County Sheriff’s Office covers 641 square miles. According to Mincks, one of the biggest barriers for his deputies is simply filing an incident report. For example, a deputy gets dispatched to a call 40 minutes away from the sheriff’s office. Because the deputy does not have access to a wireless Internet signal, the deputy must drive back to the sheriff’s office in order to electronically file the report where Internet access is available.  

“If we can have an officer go out to a scene, file the report on his computer right at the scene, and send it into the server, he doesn’t have to spend time to come into the office just to file the report,” said Mincks. “County-wide Internet access would be a huge benefit not only for law enforcement, but also for the citizens in protecting their safety.”

The need to share information instantaneously is an important aspect to the job of first responders, but the Washington County Sheriff’s Deputies’ only means of sharing information is to meet in person, or search out areas with Internet access.

“It’s very important for everyone on the team to know everything that everyone else knows, as quickly as possible,” said Mincks. He also explained the importance of keeping a deputy in his or her zone, and how doing so significantly increases the proficiency of the operation.

It is equally as important to keep citizens informed, but 34% are unable to subscribe to home broadband Internet service because it is not available (findings from Connect Ohio’s technology assessment for Washington County).

The sheriff’s office has used social media and e-mail “crime alert” messaging before. On a recent occasion, they tweeted, posted, and e-mailed the description of a person who committed a homicide. The feedback from citizens through social media and e-mail was able to generate leads that led to an arrest. Mincks would like to utilize these types of alerts more often, but the lack of Internet access in Washington County makes it hard to reach all of the citizens.

Another limiting factor for the Washington County Sheriff’s Office is the 80-90% area coverage of radio communication—their most vital form of communicating. Ubiquitous county Internet access would allow for communication in the existing dead zones, as well as photo and video sharing, which Mincks says would greatly increase crime scene capabilities.

Countywide Internet access would also give deputies the opportunity to use ‘silent dispatching’ a more secure means of communication that would eliminate information being intercepted over radio signal, by people other than area law enforcement. Internet access would provide options for communicating by text or chat, and could eliminate information being shared over radio airwaves.

“Silent dispatching would be an asset to us, and that could become a reality with high-speed Internet,” said Mincks. He believes law enforcement will transfer all dispatch communication to ‘silent dispatching’ in the future.

The convenience and tools that come with high-speed Internet accessibility are tools that other public safety offices are using every day as a necessity and not a luxury. In areas where Internet access is available, it is often taken for granted.

Mincks and his colleagues feel they are working several years behind 2012 and believe Internet access in Washington County is a vitally important need that must be addressed in order for their office to catch up with what other law enforcement agencies were are already doing years ago.  

Video produced by Amanda Murphy


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