Pictured: Cpt. Louie Valadez demonstrated how the GPS tracking system works. The tracking software can find personnel through their cell phones or with new devices installed in sheriff's department cars. Photo by MAURICIO JULIAN CUELLAR JR.

GPS system installed in sheriff's dept. vehicles

Mauricio Julian Cuellar Jr., Alice Echo-News Journal

New GPS locating devices recently purchased by the Jim Wells County Sheriff's Department will assist county officials in monitoring how their resources are spent by tracking deputy traffic during their shifts and also addressing concerns critics of the department have, namely the availability of patrols in their area.

Designed by ActSoft, The Comet Tracker system utilizes a small GPS locator placed in each department vehicle.

The information is sent out via Nextel service to computers back at department headquarters, where the system monitors several variables as the patrol car travels during the course of a shift.

The information, which is received by the system every 30 seconds, is a valuable resource for officials to use, department officials said.

At any moment, in real time, a department administrator can view county vehicles' location on a map, pinpointing their exact location, how fast they are traveling, who the officer assigned to that vehicle is, what areas they have patrolled recently, and how long they stop while on the road for any length of time.

Cpt. Louie Valadez, system administrator, said the administrator can check for activity during the last minute, hour, work shift, week or longer. Only administrators have access to the system in the department

"With this system, we can plot multiple units, to see blanketed areas where they are patrolling," Valadez said. "We can identify areas in the county that aren't being patrolled enough."

Valadez realizes that some critics say that their area in the county does not receive attention, but he said that there are areas where deputies are called out to more often than others.

"They've called to say well, I haven't seen any patrols around here, and we can look back at the system and pull up their individual street and see how often a patrol vehicle does visit that location during the day. We can tell them yes the officers were by there, or we can let the officers know where they need to visit more often," Valadez said.

Currently, seven vehicles contain the Comet Tracker system, with plans for all 20 vehicles to be outfitted soon. Administrators also have cell phones with GPS systems, so their location can also be monitored at all times.

JWC Sheriff Oscar Lopez said the system will prove invaluable in responding to scenes.

"With this tracker system, we can prove where they were, how fast they were driving and how long they took to get there," Lopez said.

The ActSoft computer program was free for the department, but installation of the tracker system in 20 vehicles costs $1,000, along with $600 each month for service for all patrol vehicles. The cost of the system is covered by money from the department's forfeiture fund.