WINFIELD, W.Va. (AP) — After every incident and arrest made in the field, Putnam County sheriff's deputies must follow standard procedure and file a report — which means returning to the department's headquarters in Winfield.
A new pilot project may make many of those trips a thing of the past.
A Division of Highway Safety grant awarded to the Putnam County Sheriff's Department will allow deputies to file reports and access the Putnam County courthouse network in the field, said Sheriff Steve Deweese.
"It's going to save the county money in fuel because they'll be able to stay in the field and access the WiFi hotspots without having to drive all the way back to Winfield to file reports," he said. "They'll also be able to stay in the field more and be more visible and accessible to the public."
The grant, worth about $3,500, will allow sheriff's deputies to access a virtual private network linked to the courthouse and the Sheriff's Department. Most of the grant has gone toward technology updates at the headquarters. Two new WiFi hotspots, in Teays Valley and Bancroft, will be tested, said Jay McFarland, owner of Adelphi Technologies and an information technology specialist for Putnam County.
"We used the majority of those funds to get the infrastructure in place — what we needed at the county -- to make this happen," McFarland said. "That part of it will work no matter what — a deputy could use the WiFi at McDonald's and access the VPN and upload the information."
One of the new hotspots is at Teays Valley Christian School and the school has given the Sheriff's Department office space to work in, Deweese said. But with an average 50-foot range, officers can also sit in their cruisers outside the school and file reports with their office-issued laptops.
McFarland said the officers will connect to a given WiFi network and will then be able to access the VPN through their laptops with a username and password. He hopes once officers have been trained to use the secure network at its two pilot locations, the county will be able to partner with local fire departments, libraries and other public agencies to allow access roughly every 10 miles.
"They'll be able to hopefully access the network within 50 feet of a participating building," he said. "We're not broadcasting it county-wide, although we are looking into grants that would allow us to do that in the future."
Less than $100 of the grant was used to set up WiFi at the Teays Valley site, and McFarland hopes the Sheriff's Department will be able to convince other agencies around the county to partner in the project and expand WiFi access for deputies in the field.
"We're hoping to utilize existing resources as much as possible," he said. "We hope to have the infrastructure in Teays Valley complete ... and then it's just a matter of getting the deputies down there to complete the training."
Information from: The Charleston Gazette, http://www.wvgazette.com