Middletown — Back in the day, about two weeks ago, a call would come into the police dispatcher and someone grabbed a pen.

Middletown — Back in the day, about two weeks ago, a call would come into the police dispatcher and someone grabbed a pen.

Dispatchers logged it in the computer. A watch commander wrote it on a sheet of paper. When it was resolved, it would get crossed off the paper.

That was the old system. The city's police department switched to a new, Windows-based computer system last week to handle records. Upgrades will continue through June. Lt. Paul Rickard said the changes will shorten response times and help officers spend less time in the station filling out reports and more time on the streets.

The project will cost $100,000 over five years and reach into nearly every aspect of the city's policing, including call dispatching.

Let's say someone reports a car weaving along the street. The watch commander can scan a computer screen of police car icons. They're color-coded, telling the watch commander which cars are available. The bottom half of the screen lists calls being handled and those waiting.

So, in this hypothetical, the watch commander sends Car 100 after the drifty driver. The officer then scans the driver's license on scene. An in-car computer taps into a system that shows information like arrest records and Department of Motor Vehicle history. A printer in the dash spits out a ticket.

The officer files a report from the side of the road, the icon returns to in-service status and the call drops from the screen.

Technology has flooded the department during recent years. More than a third of police cars have computers, scanners have replaced ink pads for fingerprinting, Rep. Maurice Hinchey helped get a grant to buy new computers for the station. The records system, however, was a glaring holdover from the past.

That system, based on MS-DOS, was so old, police said, the company no longer had people to fix it. To check a suspect's arrest record, police had to go into the system, write down each record's number on a piece of paper, close out and look up individual records in a new window. Now, police can click on an icon and bring up individual records without exiting. What used to take 45 minutes for regular offenders now takes about five.

Chief Matthew Byrne said they had hoped to upgrade as part of a program planned by the county to create a central records system, linking all county law enforcement agencies. But when five years of plans stalled about six months ago, Byrne said, Middletown couldn't wait.

The other problem is the police station isn't like a business that can shut down for a few days or install systems overnight. "You keep operating and you change your whole operation at the same time," Byrne said.