Cops, Computers, and a New Career:
Valley Police Department, and Beyond. 1985 to Today
It took me awhile to transition from Police Officer to Civilian, but I still observe the world around me with the eyes of a cop.

I didn’t know it at the time, but the first experience I developed regarding working with computers went back to when I was working in communications at the Hall County Communications Division, known as GIEC. During the slow time of the year, while I was working the grave yard shift, one of the sheriff’s deputies in the Warrants Division would pass along whatever he had on any wanted subjects the Sheriff’s Office had difficulty in locating. The subjects concerned may have been wanted for bad checks, fraud, or failure to appear in court for whatever violations. In most cases, the warrants were Felony Warrants, rather than Misdemeanor Warrants, and the subject was no longer residing at his or her last known address. My job was to use what little information the Sheriff’s Office had about the individual, and use all of my resources to determine where the subject was, or at a minimum had enough information to enter the subject in the NCIS / NCIC system. Since I had a very in depth knowledge of the NLETS (National Law Enforcement Teletype System,) and how the various states applied their systems to NLETS, this became a very effective tool! Remember, the internet did not exist then as it does today, but none the less, it was still making queries to various computers.

I became damned good at it, and was helping the Sheriff’s Office locate fugitives all over the United States!

While working at Valley PD, we had obtained a number of Federal Grants to purchase traffic radar for our patrol cars. I wrote the grant proposal, and it was approved by the US Department of Transportation. As a result, state of the art radar units were purchased and installed in both patrol cars. One of the requirements for the grant was that we needed to “demonstrate” we were using the radars in the manner required by the Department of Transportation. This was done by providing monthly reports containing data for all traffic contacts, speeding or otherwise, made by our officers for a two year period. This included not only arrests and citations, but written and verbal warnings as well. This data was collected from several locations, the actual copies of citations and written warnings, but also from each officer’s duty logs. Data included the contact number if one existed, age, gender, ethnicity, date, day, time of day, type of road, (highway versus city street,) speed detected if the violation was a speeding contact, etc. Initially, this was all collected by me and tracked on hand written spreadsheets.

On my personal time, I’d been playing with a new fandangeled contraption called a personal computer. These were not very high end machines, (Timex ZX80 or Commodore 64,) but I got pretty good at making these things do some interesting things. I suggested that the City should purchase a computer for the police department, which would aid in record keeping and report writing. The Chief was initially against the idea as he believed the city was trying to replace him with a computer. Clearly this was not the case, and the City Council approved the purchase of a Compaq AT, Desktop Computer, running MS DOS 2.1. What they did not purchase was any software or training on how to use the machine. Soon, database and word processing software was donated by nearby Valmont Industries, and I jumped in learning by trial and error how to use the machine.

This was in 1985 or 1986. It should be noted, that until the late 1990’s, I had never received any formal training in computing or information technology. Everything was self taught, and tested through trial and error. While I had a strong background in electronics, it just seemed that computing was something which I had a knack for figuring out. I started developing a process to collect, collate, and process the data for the monthly report to the Feds as required for the radar grant. I started by what was needed from traffic citations, but figured that while I was at it, I'd include ALL of the data from the tickets instead of just the data required for the grant report. I included all the other fields from the citation as well. A citation is technically an arrest, so I started adding data from Criminal Citations and Booking Sheets to the database, and any and all official contacts made by the officers. This included written warnings, parking citations, field interview cards, and any other written contact information produced. This generated not only the report I needed for the grants, but also provided for many other reports and statistics.

As this database evolved, I began to produce a monthly report named, “The List of Prominent Area Offenders.” Specific rules were set up to determine who would be on the list, or who would be purged from the list and when. Subjects included on the list were persons with felony convictions, weapons offenses, current warrants, drug offenses, violent behavior, frequent misdemeanor arrests and such. If a given subject had no official contact by a Valley Police Officer after five years, the subject was automatically purged from the report. The report contained the individuals name, physical description, date of birth, last known city of residence, and a code which indicated why the subject was included on the list. This list was shared with neighboring law enforcement agencies, and soon, it was appearing in the brief case of sheriff’s deputies, state troopers, and officers from the three counties near Valley. Even the various railroad police were using the list!

This became a very valuable intelligence tool in the region. One of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Deputies commented that he was working a case where he was able to determine a viable suspect using “Valley’s Shit List!” While officially known as “The List of Prominent Area Offenders,” after that comment it became known at the “S-List” or “Sam-List,” especially when referred to via the radio.

Later, I computerized the officers’ patrol logs, and cross referenced the logs with the contact database. At the same time, report documents were referenced, while not specifically interconnected. Soon, the entire package became a law enforcement records management suite that could be customized for individual agencies.

Most of such systems that were commercially available were targeted for large, metropolitan police departments, and since PC technology was relatively new at the time, these applications were built for mainframe computers. Nothing had been prepared for the small agency of ten or fewer officers and to be deployed on a personal computing platform. I did speak with some people in the Information Technology Industry at the time, and while all agreed that I had put together a pretty nifty system, the consensus was still focused on mainframe applications, targeted for big city police departments. A company selling the main frame packages only needed to sell a few to make big buck, while my approach was to make up for it in volume. To put it in simple terms, client-server technology had not made a foothold yet.

None the less, I did sell and installed the process to a number of agencies in Nebraska and did consulting to these agencies. Ashland, Elkhorn, and Yutan, Nebraska were among the agencies that used my process and services. The Nebraska Law Enforcement Intelligence Network used me as a consultant. My wife, who had been working in Information Technology for more than a few years pointed out that I was selling my products and services far below what the market says I should have been charging. At that point in time, I was still working in Law Enforcement as my primary occupation, and my work with computers was a hobby, so I did not yet approach computing as a means of gainful employment.

My good friend and high school classmate, Craig Stover was an Officer for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. He was one of the State Game Wardens who worked Douglas and Sarpy Counties, and he lived just outside of Valley. Craig and I worked many cases and incidents together, but he was also a good friend, and we socialized off duty as well. Craig was also a computer head, and took great interest in the application I was developing. After I moved away from Nebraska, Craig arranged for an audience with the Game and Parks Commission at their Headquarters in Lincoln to take a look at the application. They liked what they saw, but we both agreed that since I did not have a company per se to support the application, warranty and support issues might be an issue.

By 1994 I was living and working in Kansas City, Missouri, and I provided Craig with the source code to the process, and full permission to run with it or improve it on his own. After the advent of Windows and the Microsoft Office Suite, Craig converted the database structure to MS Access, and applied what he had built to the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

(How I ended up in Kansas City is the topic for another story. Today, Craig is the Chief Law Enforcement Officer for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission!)

By Mid-1995, I had been working with the Lake Lottwana, Missouri Police Department, and the 911 Center for the Lee’s Summit, Missouri Police Department. My wife, Micki could sense that I was becoming extremely frustrated with the direction my law enforcement career was taking after 16 years, and made the suggestion that since I had been working with computers as a hobby, perhaps it was time to take the next step to move to a career in Information Technology. Micki introduced me to some of her contacts in the business, and soon I was working with a local system integration company as a field technician. I motored all about the Kansas City Metro Area fixing computers at businesses and doctor’s offices. I had left law enforcement behind me. By the fall of 1996 I was working in Information Technology for Sprint, and my new career was in full flight.

In 1997, the Elkhorn Police Department, who was using my process, had mistakenly corrupted the file system by one of their officers who wanted to tweak the performance. While I was traveling back to Nebraska to assist with the recovery, the Chief decided to educate his staff on how to create a proper back up. He overwrote the last known back up with the corrupted data, thus leaving nothing left to recover from.

As late as 2005, I stopped by Valley to see some old friends and co-workers. By this time, my old friend K.C. Bang was Chief of Police there. He told me that while the computer hardware and operating systems had been updated to something more contemporary, they were still using the DOS based record system I built during the 1980’s. It was fun to watch a report which might have taken five minutes to complete on the old hardware in the 80’s appear nearly instantly on the new, modern hardware! How often does one see a twenty year old application still being used on a PC? Not too shabby!

I never graduated from college. Aside from a few, short classes on specific technologies of a week or less, I’ve not received any formal education in computer science. It’s hard to imagine that my career in Law Enforcement prepared me for my career in Information Technology. As of 2016, I’ve been working professionally in IT for over twenty years, which is longer than the time I spent in public safety. Until recently, most of my IT experience has been working in the telecommunication industry.

It took me awhile to transition from Police Officer to Civilian, but I still observe the world around me with the eyes of a cop. I typically hate watching cop dramas on television. They are so fake! I still eat in restaurants with the habit of facing the door from my seat, a habit my family has come to indulge with a bit of humor. I still pick out suspicious activity in my surroundings. While on a business trip to Orlando, one of my work associates and a vendor were amazed when I quickly recognized a not so obvious hooker working the hotel lobby and we avoided her attentions.

I’m presently a manager for IBM, in their Global Business Services organization. My work today is interesting and challenging, but I have to admit that during the past twenty years, no one has tried to physically assault me on the job. The compensation and benefits have been much better than what the local governments were able to provide, and I’ve been able to provide much better for my family. While I have needed to be on call from time to time, I typically don’t have to work on holidays. (Not too shabby for a kid from the boondocks, with a less than stellar academic career!)

I look back on my sixteen years in law enforcement with great pride, and sometimes I experience a longing for maybe being part of the action once again. Then reality kicks in and I remember that I’m a lot older now and no longer in the physical condition that I once was. There’s no way I could physically do the job, let alone deal with the political changes to today’s law enforcement environment.

But yet, I still miss it...

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