Chief Ely Reyes and Cedar Hill, TX

All across the country, one of the biggest operational challenges for police departments is sharing critical information quickly. Simply put, this has rarely been possible. Adhering to state and federal compliance requirements has always taken precedence. Before Genasys Protect CONNECT, there was never a communications solution that could give teams both speed and security.

For Chief Reyes, discovering the CONNECT platform was a total game-changer. Now his department can work more efficiently because they receive updates instantly, right on their phones. It’s better for the community, and it makes his leadership team even more effective.

Meet Chief Ely Reyes

Chief Ely Reyes came to Cedar Hill, Texas, in early 2019. The city is located 16 miles southwest of Dallas and has a population of roughly 50,000 with a police force of 71 officers. The move has been great for Chief Reyes, and there have certainly been some interesting developments for his career as well.

For 23 years, he was employed with the Austin, Texas, police department, which employs about 1,800 officers. Yet even as recently as 2015, while Reyes was serving as the Technology Commander, the department was experiencing a significant and surprising amount of pushback for wanting to improve some of its processes.

At the time, officers were still carrying pagers as their primary mode of communication. This was obviously unacceptable. Nevertheless, Reyes still needed to present a use-case scenario before the city council to explain all of the things officers could do from a phone—and how it would make their service infinitely better.

It was a long struggle, but eventually, every officer in Austin was issued a smartphone. This happened right before Reyes went on to assume his new position as the Cedar Hill Chief of Police. Going forward, he knew that giving his staff the tools they needed to communicate effectively was going to be a top priority.

Compliant Communication—That’s Finally Fast

While the public sector can usually rely on email for any of their day-to-day work correspondence, this simply isn’t an option for police departments. They can’t send CJIS material through email because email isn’t secure. Instead, the industry has been limited to using outdated fax systems and long games of “phone tag.” Then there’s the heavy radio chatter to sift through while officers are out in the field.

The ability to share intelligence data quickly and clearly—from anywhere and at any time—has seemed out of reach for decades. But Chief Reyes had a solid understanding of how technology was progressing, and as soon as a new possibility became available, he was ready to learn about it. He didn’t want to stick with another broken system, even if it was “tradition.”

Onboarding Cedar Hill to CONNECT

A couple of months after Chief Reyes arrived in Cedar Hill, he connected with Jeff Halstead, the president and co-founder of Evertel and Chief of Police (retired) of Fort Worth, who wanted to let Chief Reyes know about a new type of communications solution called Evertel (now CONNECT). He explained that the software that he and his team developed was specifically designed with police officers in mind.

The solution works on both computers and smartphones too, which makes it feel similar to a typical texting platform. The difference, though, is that CONNECT helps give police departments an easy way to instantly align their processes for compliance. The system is built to accommodate all state and federal record retention requirements. Once Chief Reyes heard about communicating on CONNECT, deciding whether or not to adopt the tool was obvious. He saw the potential and knew it would serve his team better than ever before.

“Jeff said to try it for free for a few months,” said Chief Reyes. “So we decided to sign on with the entire department.”

They arranged for a supervisory meeting first. They met in their briefing room, and Halstead joined remotely on a video call to talk about the CONNECT platform and how it works. Everyone was immediately onboard, and then they identified a couple of admins on staff to become “master users.” From there, they went on to introduce CONNECT to the rest of the department and explain how to download and use the app. All in all, the onboarding process was seamless.

“We’d been using the program for about four or five months when new legislature was passed regarding archiving messages,” said Chief Reyes. “Everyone was scrambling, but I was thinking, ‘Hey, we already have it.”

The legality of how employees communicate on shift doesn’t leave any room for error, and officers who tend to use public messaging apps put themselves at risk. But with CONNECT, departments have better protection from civil liabilities. Plus, it’s more streamlined for everyone to connect.

Group Chats vs Email Updates

Throughout his career, Chief Reyes has always understood the value of communications technology and how to optimize new tools for public safety. While terms like “the cloud” and even “software solution” may not ring a bell with everyone, his IT background definitely gave him a leg-up to feel comfortable and confident moving forward with CONNECT.

The system is secure, and it has given him a faster way to stay informed and get messages out to his supervisors and officers. That’s true whether he’s at his desk or on the go with his cell phone. The chatrooms are easier to check than email, and that makes everything faster.

“CONNECT does replace email in a lot of cases,” said Chief Reyes. “I have a supervisor room set up. Then if we have a high-profile event, you’d put a little blurb right there to start a conversation.”

If he needs additional details, he can send a direct message to someone and ask them to share a more detailed email with him. But starting with a CONNECT chatroom is always their go-to because everyone can stay on the same page with instant updates.

“I really have no idea how much faster CONNECT has made things for us,” said Chief Reyes. “Even just having the data available in one place is so much more efficient. In that sense, our intelligence sharing has probably increased tenfold.”

Providing Real-Time Information to the Public

This ease of communication has also allowed Chief Reyes to keep his community better informed. One of the best advantages he’s found with CONNECT is that he can quickly disseminate straightforward information to the public. Whenever they have a high-profile incident or a large police presence somewhere, the on-duty supervisor can share that information in the Supervisor Room on CONNECT.

In these types of situations, the public will often start thinking of the worst-case scenario. But with CONNECT, Chief Reyes is able to mitigate a lot of angst by disseminating actual, real-time updates.

“For example, we had a neighbor asking about the high school on social media because there were a few ambulances outside. Then the community was worried about a shooting,” said Chief Reyes. “In reality, there was just one person in an ambulance for hyperventilation.”

Because his department uses CONNECT, Chief Reyes was able to stop the rumors from escalating almost immediately. He didn’t even have to wait to come to work. He just checked the chatroom and was able to share the key details on social media for a reassuring, honest, and accurate announcement to explain that the other civilian reports weren’t confirmed.

“If I can’t put that out there, we might have people still thinking for three days that someone was shot and wondering what’s going on,” he explained.

That information could have come to Chief Reyes in an email. Fortunately, getting a CONNECT message is faster and more intuitive for quick conversations. The setup is secure and built for police, and because it provides instant communication he was able to learn exactly what was happening and get the word out right away.

CONNECT Platform Collaboration

The Cedar Hill PD has created multiple chatrooms within CONNECT to coordinate assignments and make sure each party has access to information at a moment’s notice. Even with only a handful of these rooms, the tool has helped ensure they stay organized for their day-to-day operations.

“Each patrol shift has a room,” said Chief Reyes. “Our CID has a room, and we have a supervisor room. The traffic sergeant also has a room to put out directed patrols.”

The traffic reports are shared every two weeks. They can include a photo of the address and other related details with the traffic concern for simple recaps. Essentially, all of the employees have access to the information they need, when they need it.

“We don’t expect officers to monitor CONNECT when off-duty,” said Chief Reyes. “But since it logs the entire conversation, even if someone has been off-shift, they can scroll through the messages and learn what’s happened and what to expect as soon as they start their shift.”

Everything is coordinated through chatroom invitations and notices. This helps team members review their own list of responsibilities and real-time intelligence sharing.

“As Chief, I might get calls from city leaders, or learn that a council member heard something,” said Chief Reyes. “We don’t allow any type of solicitation at all in the city, so when somebody tells me about a certain area, I can send a message out to the supervisor group and know that all supervisors will receive that message.”

Whoever is on duty then gets the report, and whether that’s his corporal, sergeant, lieutenant, or assistant chief, they can go check the intersection. That way, the situation is handled automatically, without a lot of back-and-forth.

Special-Use Cases with CONNECT Chatrooms

Over time the department has been able to expand and adapt how they use CONNECT to make it even more effective. During the big ice storm in Texas at the start of 2021, Cedar Hill put all of the communications for EOC directly on the platform. Whether in the morning or evening, they could simply pick up the phone for their shift and check up on everything that happened while they were away.

“If you have some type of critical incident or weather event, or when COVID hit, you can always set up a CONNECT room and go from there,” said Chief Reyes. “If I get a message from the city or the PD, it all comes through the same way. It just takes me where I need to go on the platform, and I don’t need to do anything special.”

For example, they can use CONNECT to share intelligence about a suspect vehicle if a robbery has just occurred. Then everyone on the street has a picture of that exact car and collaborates on the next steps.

Even though Chief Reyes is not a member of every chatroom, he still has access to them. This “quality control” option has been a convenient solution for accountability and compliance. The entire staff knows that anything they type and put in a CONNECT chat is subject to open records. Moreover, the app software allows them to address both the high-profile and daily concerns of the public in record time. That’s why it’s their simple solution for being able to remain compliant—and staying organized.

The Future with CONNECT

After working with the free trial for a few months, Chief Reyes became convinced that CONNECT was the only way for his team to connect instantly and compliantly. They already had the money in their budget for a permanent account, and they haven’t looked back since.

“It’s kind of a no-brainer. There’s no excuse to not be on CONNECT,” said Chief Reyes. “Our officers can install the app on their phone, or they can check out a city-issued phone when they come on shift. You log in, and then you’re ready to go.”

Cedar Hill officers can also access the CONNECT platform on the computer in their patrol cars. The communications solution is now their default system, and it’s been easy for everyone to learn how to use the app to their full advantage. Their workflow is more streamlined, and that’s helping keep their community safe around the clock.

The team at CONNECT is always eager to speak with police departments, first responders, and elected officials all across the country. If you have any questions or would like to arrange for a demo, please contact us.