WORTHINGTON -- Over the past decades, computers have been developed to help with communication, with data storage, with sorting facts and with research. When the Worthington Police Department added Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) in its squad cars, it got a boost in all of those areas.

When the CAD systems were installed in the squad cars in September, there was a bit of a learning curve involved for the officers and dispatchers. But according to Worthington Police Officer Ted Buhner, it was minimal.

"The system was easy to learn," he stated as he maneuvered his squad car through city streets. "Then it was a matter of procedure -- getting everyone on the same page."

CAD, he said, helps him stay organized and gives him access to a wealth of information he did not previously have without going back to the law enforcement center or contacting a dispatcher.

"It's a real time saver and a great investigative tool," Buhner explained.

Having the computer in his squad car gives him the ability to look up statutes and ordinances, find a phone number or property owner, check the status of a driver's license and even look at a license photo.

"I can think of several times having a current photo would have avoided a problem," Buhner said. "Someone gives you their brother's name of cousin's name instead of their own. ... If I would have had the ability to look at the photo on the spot, it could have changed how that contact went."

Each officer has an individual "dashboard" to log into, which tracks his or her own cases and their own notes. If, in the course of their day, officers come across something they believe is pertinent to another officer's case, they can add a note to that case, keeping the flow of information constant. From their squad car, they can clear case files, check on the whereabouts of evidence as it moves through the chain of custody, access digital recordings or photos attached to case files and even type reports.

"I can pull over into a parking lot and do this instead of driving back to the Prairie Justice Center, which is so convenient," Buhner said. "I can check on warrants without having to bother a dispatcher. I can note unusual features on cars, like if a car with a certain license plate has yellow flames."

The CAD is in no way meant to replace dispatchers, Buhner emphasized.

"They are still essential and always will be," he said. "They take the information from people and get it to us. They enter the warrants. They talk to the public. The CAD just frees them up and helps us out."

As information comes from a caller, the dispatcher enters it into a Call For Service (CFS), which shows up on the CAD screen in the squad car. The fields on the screen start to populate, and the call gets assigned to an officer. Other officers can see the CFS and are aware of what is happening. When the officer assigned to the CFS arrives on the scene, it takes just a few simple taps on the touch screen to let dispatch know of their location and what the situation is. The system even has a few built-in safety features, such as an alarm that contacts dispatch in a certain length of time if the officer doesn't check back in.

The screen shows each officer where other officers are, and on what kind of call, which gives them on opportunity to drive by and check on each other when they are free from their own calls.

"Before, you had to remember where someone said they were if you were busy with something of your own when they called in. Now you can look at the screen, see if they are still tied up with something, and drive by to check on them," Buhner added. "It is really becoming second nature to use this system."