Skip to content
Virginia Sheriffs' Institute
Supporting Virginia’s Sheriffs & Deputies

The Washington County Sheriff’s Office has added another very important tool to help ensure officer safety for their deputies.  In the spring of 2008, with the assistance of the county’s Information Systems Department, the Sheriff’s Office equipped each of their 27 patrol cruisers with AVL (Automatic Vehicle Locator) units. 

AVL___801.jpgWashington County, located in the southwestern part of the state, is a county of approximately 600 square miles, with a population of 53,000.  The varied geographical terrain poses unique communication challenges for all emergency service providers.  Searching for a way to enhance communication coverage, the AVL’s utilize an innovative solution of a low band radio frequency that sends a signal every 60 seconds during normal patrol.  The low-band frequency can actually give better coverage area than the high-band frequency the officers communicate with currently.  This is very important in covering remote areas.  The signal carries the coordinates of the location of the vehicle, the vehicle’s ID number, speed and heading.  This information is translated to the mapping software used by the dispatchers.  Dispatchers also have the ability to send a signal to the AVL equipment which tells the unit to begin updating every 10 seconds.  With this feature, locations during a chase or emergency are updated almost real-time.

“To my knowledge, this is the first use of AVL’s by a Sheriff’s Office in the state,” said Sheriff Newman.  The idea of installing AVL’s was a perfect fit with the other technology that has been incorporated into the Sheriff’s cruisers.  Over the past two years, with the assistance from the County Board of Supervisors and grant funding, the Sheriff’s office has been able to install MDT’s (mobile data terminals) in their patrol vehicles.  Using the county’s advanced mapping system on the MDT’s, deputies are able to locate and respond to calls in a more timely manner.  They are also trained to run license and registrations checks from the patrol cars, which allows for a quicker response to the check, reduces radio traffic to dispatch, and provides identity security. 

“Realizing that backup to a call by a responding deputy may be miles away, it becomes extremely important that our communications personnel know the locations of our deputies at all times,” said Sheriff Fred Newman.  “If we were to lose communication with our responding deputy, we would be able to direct other responding police personnel to the location by use of the AVL.”  Not only can dispatchers see the location of patrol vehicles, but deputies can also see each other on the laptops in their vehicles.  This helps deputies coordinate with each other without tying up the voice communication.  By seeing the locations of the vehicles, dispatchers can help callers who are in a critical situation by knowing how close a deputy is to providing assistance.  The system also allows dispatchers and personnel in the vehicle to communicate with text messages.  Dispatchers can actually send a 911 call to the vehicle so that a deputy does not even have to reach and type in the address.

“Many advances in technology have been made during my 27 years in law enforcement,” stated Sheriff Newman.  The use of the AVL unit has been one of the most effective pieces of equipment that our agency has utilized to provide safety for our deputies.”   

Nadine S. Culberson, Information Systems Manager for Washington County, worked with her department and Sheriff Newman to make this innovation a reality for Washington County.  Ms. Culberson stated, “It is gratifying to work on a technical project that provides the tangible benefits of better safety and faster response times for the citizens of Washington County.”