Improved connectivity and customer service helping Portsmouth, Ohio, police battle multiple issues

January 25, 2021

by Debby Brewer Chief of Police, Portsmouth, OH

Portsmouth is a very diverse community. We have a college here; we have hospitals that bring a lot of people in; we have a large drug rehab population here. So, we get a variety of calls. But the service was not what it should be. There were various places within our community where we didn't have connectivity.

And that was one of the reasons that I wanted to switch. The other issue was customer service. If you would call about a complaint or an issue, it would be maybe two or three days before you would get a call back. With FirstNet that's not the issue. I call and it's taken care of within hours.

I had heard about FirstNet when it first came out. So, I had it put on my personal phone, and it changed my reception and my ability to make phone calls from my house. We have a lot of our officers who don't live in the city. So, it was a big plus to switch to FirstNet. The service is far greater under FirstNet.

The first official thing I did as chief was to switch to FirstNet because I believed in the product so much that I wanted our department to have it. It wasn't much of a hard sell because actually FirstNet was cheaper than what we were paying. Even with buying the phones and all of the hotspots, it wasn't an issue.

With the previous commercial carrier we had a lot of connectivity issues. About halfway through the billing cycle they would slow it down so bad our guys could not complete their work in their car. They would have to return to the station to do their reports.

The benefit to keeping them in their vehicles is they’re able to more quickly respond to calls for service. If they're in their vehicles, they can pull over to the side of the road and work on their reports and not have to return to the station. 

Diverse population needs

Our population is about 20,000. But it fluctuates depending on the time of the year. Our policing is a lot different when school is in session. The college, Shawnee State, has its own police department. But they're restricted to campus unless we ask for help. So, there are a lot of off-campus fraternities and sororities that we deal with on a regular basis.

On the riverfront we have two separate boat clubs – the Anchor Pad Marina and Shawnee Boat Club. And we have the Floodwall Murals. That is a big tourist attraction for our area.  

We also have an extremely large homeless population here. And with the influx of people during the day, we have a variety of calls. They can range from shoplifting calls to complaints about the homeless panhandling. Or it can be a vehicle broken into overnight or somebody's garage broken into and their tools or cars stolen. 

Battling drug use

But the biggest number of calls we get are on drugs. We have a lot of drug issues here in Portsmouth. We also have a lot of rehabs here. And they go hand in hand. When we get people sent here from other counties to the drug rehabs, sometimes they leave against medical advice or against their court order. Or they get kicked out for going out and using while they're there. So now we have this other population that is basically stuck here. And that's a big problem for us.

FirstNet has been instrumental in helping against the drug fight in Portsmouth. Our taskforce has FirstNet phones. Since we switched to FirstNet, they do not worry about connectivity issues or having phone service when they go out on surveillance.

Population influx

We have a festival every year around Labor Day called "River Days." And it attracts a lot of people. So, we have another influx during that holiday that brings us down. We would get throttled because there were so many people trying to use the internet at the same time.

With the number of people here and the congestion on the internet, it would be almost impossible to pull up any type of identifying verification such as a picture on our MTDs. The throttling was horrible.

Where I never had service before, I now have service with FirstNet. Our throttling issues have gone away.

We're using the FirstNet phones for communication with all upper command and detectives. And we are using the FirstNet hotspots in our vehicles for our mobile devices. We take pictures with them to add to reports for criminal prosecution. We send text messages. We do just about everything with our FirstNet phones.

Relying on FirstNet

I've been in law enforcement for 31 years. And going to FirstNet was probably the best enhancement to any communication that I've seen in all the years of my law enforcement career.

It makes me feel very good knowing that I have brought about an improvement to our service to our community. The Portsmouth Police Department works very closely with our sheriff's office here. They're shorthanded. We're shorthanded. So, my guys go handle calls in the county, and their people come in and help us when we need them.

I feel that FirstNet is helping to make our community safer. It's adding a layer of protection as far as communication for the department and within the department. I am hoping that one day we don't have to worry about a budget and that we are able to purchase the FirstNet phones for all of our officers. The sheriff's department is going to it, so our communications will be so much better, so much easier. 

Debby Brewer is the Chief of Police in Portsmouth, Ohio, and has been in law enforcement for 32 years. Previously, she served as interim chief in Portsmouth and was a captain in the department for 28 years. Chief Brewer is also a volunteer EMT and firefighter for the Valley Township Fire Department.