Lancaster County police departments connect with data-sharing program

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LANCASTER COUNTY, P.A. --- When police make contact with someone, whether they be a suspect, witness, or bystander, they collect information about that person.

In Lancaster County, District Attorney Craig Stedman said that info has been a bit scattered.

He said, due to money and other restraints, police departments are using between six to eight different record management systems.

"With that comes inherent dysfunction. Not by design, just because the systems aren't compatible," said Stedman.

With grant and federal forfeiture money, the District Attorney's Office turned to ‘CODY,’a Pottstown-based data management company.

"They were willing to, and did, build a bridge, which will allow whatever system you have, whether it's CODY or another system, allow them to share the data," said Stedman.

Enter the web-based COBRA Bridge program.

More than a dozen Lancaster County police departments now connect through it, including the West Lampeter Police Department.

Detective Steven Heinly said the data available across the COBRA bridge is endless: personal and vehicle information, prior incidents, dates times and locations, and more.

"You think of it, name it, it's probably in there," said Det. Heinly.

From an investigative standpoint, he said it can help connect departments to trends with similar evidence or descriptions.

For example, a rash of robberies in several areas.

"It gives you a starting point if you have very little information and you plug it in, you might be able to find more with the information that's already in there," said Heinly.

For officers on patrols, he said they can get a better idea of who they're dealing with, such as pulling over a driver with a warrant from a different area.

"If there was an officer-involved assault or just violent tendencies, that type of information will come up when they pull up all his information," said Heinly.

Authorities say the concept of sharing info isn't new, but the COBRA bridge is a new and improved way of doing it.

Still, Heinly said the success of the COBRA bridge boils down to the responsibility of officers to put in as much information about an incident, as possible.

"If you're not putting that stuff in, you're not going to get it out," said Heinly.

Stedman said he believes they have an obligation to make sure officers "make it home at night" while protecting their communities.

"It's a public safety issue. It's an officer safety issue," said Stedman.

The expectation is within the next year, a "Super COBRA" network will soon allow Pennsylvania counties to share data with each other.

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