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July 29, 2014 | 02:34 PM
Lake Geneva police recently unveiled a new 911 system that improves communication response times and lays the groundwork for the Lake Geneva department to receive cell phone 911 calls directly.

The system came on line June 25 and cost $129,897, according to Police Chief Michael Rasmussen.

The new system replaces an earlier computer-based dispatching system that was first installed in 1993 and updated in 1997.

Jean Froggot, Lake Geneva Police Department’s communications supervisor, said she and the dispatch staff were still tweaking the system and checking out its features, customizing it for Lake Geneva.

When someone calls the police department, either through 911 or the nonemergency number, the calling number is captured. Even cell phone numbers are now captured, Froggot said.

Assistant Chief Michael Reuss said the new 911 system is a time saver for the city’s dispatchers.

“It’s an outstanding program,” he said. “It makes their jobs a little easier and makes getting the information a little bit faster.”

Froggot said one of the notable improvements was the addition of a key pad, made by a California company, called Genovation.

The keypad allows dispatchers to answer, transfer and disconnect calls with a click of a button.

The entire unit was designed by Cassidian Communications, also of California.

“I remember 25 years ago, our radio was a box and we pressed a big square button to talk,” Froggot said.

Then, the communications center was in a basement office.

It was a time of paper files and quickly paging through phone books or thumbing a rolodex to find phone numbers.

Records of police contacts and arrests were kept in manila folders and card indexes. Often it was up to the memories of police and staff whether someone’s name might be on a file.

Now everything is on an electronic file.

“We used to ask for background on a license plate, and we were lucky to get it in two days,” said Froggot. “Now, we get the information back sometimes even before we finish entering the number.”

One of the new features is that cell phone calls can now be located on a GPS map.

Land line calls can be pinpointed to the exact location. Cell phone calls are pinpointed to their locations as close as possible, Froggot said.

Concentric circles on the dispatcher’s map screen creates a bullseye with the most likely origin of the cell phone call in the center of the bullseye.

Often the locations are very precise.

Froggot said the department recently received a cell phone call from the backyard of a Lake Geneva residence, and the location map showed the call coming from the backyard.

For the dispatchers’ convenience, and to increase call-back speeds, on the main screen is a collection of colorful icons for departments and services that are most commonly called by the department (for example, a yellow mail box for voicemail; a deep purple badge for county 911 centers.)

Clicking on an icon connects the caller with the appropriate service or department.

And, there’s an electronic Rolodex for those numbers not commonly called. All it takes is a click of the mouse, and the number is automatically dialed.

Calls also appear on the squad car laptops, so officers know when a potential call for service comes in, Froggot said.

Calls and communications are also automatically time-stamped so dispatchers can create a communications time line of an incident, if necessary, she said.

The police department is now waiting for approval to have 911 cell phone calls to Lake Geneva police and fire come directly to the Lake Geneva dispatch center.

Those calls are still going to the sheriff’s department first and are then are transferred to Lake Geneva, Froggot said.

The problem is that there is, on average, a 15-second delay to transfer cell calls from the sheriff’s department to the police department. Cell calls accounted for about 67 to 70 percent of all 911 calls received by the Lake Geneva police from January to May, Rasmussen said.

In addition to the delay, some cell calls are cut off, and dispatchers must call the caller back to re-establish communication.

Rasmussen said the department is waiting for Sheriff David Graves to approve having Lake Geneva police answer cell phone 911 calls directly.

However, in January 2013, Rasmussen said he didn’t expect Lake Geneva to have the ability to receive 911 calls directly until after this summer.

The Lake Geneva Police Department has six full-time dispatchers, including Froggot, and five part timers.

Froggot said she’s still tweaking the system and checking out its features.

“It’s like a new game,” she said, only half joking. “The more you use it, the more comfortable you become with it.”

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