200 city cell phones to track employees|[05/17/07]

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 17, 2007

Vicksburg will purchase 200 new cell phones for employees – but there’s a catch. The new phones will keep tabs on city employees.

Mayor Laurence Leyens said Wednesday the Nextel phones will have AVL, or Auto Vehicle Locator systems, to insure that workers are using them for business purposes only. The systems will also allow E-911 dispatchers to track exact locations of law enforcement and emergency response vehicles.

Leyens began pushing for such a system when he took office in 2001, citing that too much time was being spent on personal calls and that department heads needed tracking devices as a &#8220management tool.” Another feature is safety-related – allowing authorities to track police cars if stolen or if officers were taken hostage.

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Initially, the devices were to be used only for police, but workers in various departments will be issued the phones.

Leyens and his board once allocated about $500,000 for the purchase. But, Vicksburg Police Chief Tommy Moffett said the system wasn’t needed at that time.

Since that time, cell phone usage nationwide has skyrocketed, causing more competitive rates.

&#8220Technology has improved so much. It’s now half of what it was. So, now we’ll be getting free phones with an inexpensive cost of service,” Leyens said in the special called meeting Wednesday.

The AVL system features devices that beam the precise locations of city vehicles based on global positioning satellites back to computers that display where people are and create a history including date, time and speed.

&#8220There is no doubt this system is paying for itself a thousand fold,” Leyens said.

The city will purchase equipment, which will cost $14,748, to make sure the phone can’t be turned off.

&#8220If someone interferes with the phone, it sends an e-mail that it’s gone offline,” Leyens said.

An AVL system includes a black box with a global positioning satellite antenna in a vehicle. It receives a GPS signal that registers its latitude and longitude and transmits it back to a central monitoring station.

Dispatchers can watch a map on a computer screen and follow every vehicle. The system will also store data for a certain amount of time – 90 days at the least and probably up to six months or longer.

In other business, the board: