Magazine Article | July 1, 1998

Handcuffed By Procedure? Integrating Technologies Keeps Police On Street

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

Combining video conference, document management, biometric, and electronic signature capture technologies streamlines the arrest warrant process. Gwinnett County projects a $200,000 labor savings in 1998 due to installation.

Integrated Solutions, July-August 1998
The phrase "Book'em, Danno" has become part of our popular-culture lexicon. "Hawaii Five-0" viewers watched as Steve McGarrett tracked criminals to their inevitable capture and arrest. He then uttered his catch phrase and the show signed off for the evening.

To the 400 police officers in Gwinnett County, GA, located east of Atlanta, the phrase "Book'em, Danno" does not signal the end of their work. It merely marks the point in their job when they start processing paperwork. An officer's first task in bringing an accused person to justice is having a magistrate judge issue an arrest warrant.

The judicial system requires an arresting officer to appear before a magistrate judge with an arrest warrant. If the judge determines the warrant is satisfactory, both the judge and the officer sign the warrant. In many cases, issuing an arrest warrant in Gwinnett County would take at least two hours. Midway through 1997, Allen Camp, computer project manager for the Gwinnett Judicial Circuit, was assigned with streamlining the time-consuming arrest-warrant process. The result has been a video conferencing system which uses electronic document management and signature capture. Using the new system, an arrest warrant can be issued in about 15 minutes.

A Process That Wasted Time?
The procedure for arresting an accused person in Gwinnett County seems straight forward. An officer first detains an accused person at a precinct or jail. The officer then drives to the county courthouse where appropriate forms are filled out by the officer. The officer then appears before a magistrate judge who reviews the warrant. If approved by the judge, the warrant is signed and processed. A copy of the warrant is given to the officer who then must drive back to the accused and serve the papers.

While it may only take 30 seconds to read the actual steps in the process, following the procedure was not nearly as simple. "Gwinnett County is a suburb of Atlanta with about 500,000 residents. There are many times during the day when the traffic is murder," comments Camp. "The police officer - sometimes two officers - spent much of the day driving back and forth from the jail to the courthouse. We wanted to find a way to expedite the warrant process to get police back on the street quickly."

The arrest warrant forms that police had to fill out also consumed plenty of time. Officers have to fill out as many as seven single-page forms as part of a request for an arrest warrant. Each form pertains to different aspects of the crime. For example, one form requires information on an accused person, another form details victim information, another form specifies the charge against the accused. While all of the forms are different, each requires an officer to list the same information about the accused. "Filling out these forms required officers to write the accused person's name, address, phone number, and other details as many as five times," states Camp. "It was a terribly repetitive process and wasted a great deal of time."

Searching For A Turnkey Solution
The most time-consuming aspects of issuing an arrest warrant were travel and paperwork. To cut more than 90 minutes off the arrest warrant process, Camp had to address both of these issues. He believed the best solution would integrate video conferencing and document management.

Surely Gwinnett County was not alone in its effort to reduce the time it takes to issue an arrest warrant, recalls Camp. He would simply research all the turnkey solutions available for this particular application and make a choice. "To my surprise, there was nothing on the market which met our requirements," says Camp. "The only similar system was one designed for arraignments." Systems designed for arraignments included a video conferencing link between a courthouse and jail. Through cameras mounted on top of PCs, the arraignment system allows accused persons to "attend" their arraignment without leaving the jail. During the proceeding, a judge and accused person can each view and speak to one another. "The arraignment system would not work for issuing arrest warrants," explains Camp. "No paperwork is generated at an arraignment. We had to find a video conferencing system that allowed us to produce documents and also attach signatures to the documents."

Save Money By Serving As A Beta Site
As Camp continued to research available technologies, however, it was becoming evident that he would have to hire an integrator to write a custom application. Because Gwinnett County was running Windows NT 4.0, Camp contacted Microsoft for a list of certified software developers in the Atlanta area. Camp narrowed the list of certified software developers to three, including Federal Data Systems (Marietta, GA). The three developers each discussed the project with Camp and were asked to produce a proposal. "Federal Data Systems came back in a week and had already produced some screens that we could view on a monitor. The screens showed how the officers would interface with the system. We were confident that they were on the right track. We made a deal with Federal Data to proceed with the project," recalls Camp.

That deal included Gwinnett County becoming a beta test site for the software application that Federal Data Systems would develop. The application, which would eventually be called Electronic Warrant Interchange (EWI), integrates electronic document management, electronic signature capture, and biometric security with video conferencing. "I told Federal Data Systems that I could not spend Gwinnett County money to develop the EWI system. Typically, if I spend money to develop an application, then that application belongs to me. Gwinnett County had no plans to get into the software marketing business, so we did not want to own the rights to EWI," states Camp. Because Federal Data Systems wanted to own the rights to EWI, the integrator agreed to use Gwinnett County as a beta site. This decision resulted in great savings for Gwinnett County. As a beta site, Camp was able to stay within his operating budget of $46,000 for software. Had Gwinnett County not been a beta site, the installation would have been at least three to four times what Gwinnett County had budgeted.

Integrated Solution Streamlines Process
Initial discussions of the project between Gwinnett County and Federal Data Systems began in August of 1997 and the system was up-and-running in March of 1998. All six police precincts, police headquarters, and county jail can now be used to issue arrest warrants. Once an accused person is detained (at a precinct, jail or headquarters), an officer enters a separate room which houses a Pentium-based PC equipped with a PictureTel PC camera and video card. The officer then logs on to the password-protected EWI system. "Next, the officer enters data on electronic forms about the accused, victims, witnesses, and nature of the alleged crime. We made the data entry boxes easy to use and each form is marked with a tab on the monitor," explains Chris Alexander, project manager at Federal Data Systems. "Once the data is entered, the officer clicks an icon to place a video conference call to the courthouse."

A magistrate judge swears in the officer over the video conference. Both the judge's and officer's monitor has a split screen which shows a video image and the electronic forms. The two parties discuss the case as the judge and officer both look at the information entered by the officer. "To assign charges to the warrant, EWI has the Georgia criminal code contained within the system. The judge chooses the charge and the system assigns the correct criminal code number pertaining to that charge," says Alexander. "There are over 1,500 criminal codes and selecting the wrong code used to be a problem."

Each party then signs the arrest warrant using a Watcom digitizer pad. The pad is smaller than a mouse pad and users sign their name on the pad with a plastic-tipped pen. Pen Op software electronically captures the signature and binds it to the document. Both the judge and the officer print copies of the arrest warrant. The judge's copy is physically stored at the courthouse and the officer's copy is presented to the accused person. The electronic documents generated by EWI are stored on a server. After three months, the documents are migrated from the server to CD.

Securing EWI With Biometrics
The issue of security was one of the main concerns in implementing the EWI system at Gwinnett County. Both officers and judges have passwords that must be entered to begin the arrest warrant process. "By the end of 1998, the system will have a fingerprint recognition system. Judges and officers will log on to the system by placing their finger on a small scanner," adds Alexander

The Pen Op software also ensures the signatures on the arrest warrant are secure. Users of the system must first enroll their signature with the Pen Op software. Users sign their name ten times using the digitizer. Pen Op records the time it takes to sign a name, the type of pen strokes used to sign a name, and other unique characteristics of each signature. When users sign their name, it is compared to the signature enrolled in the system.

Pen Op software also binds signatures cryptographically to documents. Signatures cannot be altered once they are bound to a document. If the document is altered, the signature automatically voids itself. "All of the electronic documents are stored on the server as read-only memory, so the documents can't be altered. To access data on the server, you need a judge's password," says Camp.

Cut Labor Costs By Combining Technologies
The EWI system has allowed Gwinnett County to dramatically reduce its bottom line for processing arrest warrants. About 15,000 arrest warrants are processed each year in Gwinnett County and it is estimated that 80% will be processed using the EWI system. By saving one hour in police labor for each warrant processed on EWI, the county projects it will save $200,000 in 1998. "That number is conservative," admits Camp. "We will probably save more than one hour of labor per warrant. Also, that figure does not take into account the reduced gas for police cars and wear-and-tear on the cars."

It is hard to put a price on the intangible benefits the county has realized from the new system. With very few exceptions, Camp says that Gwinnett County police officers and judges have endorsed the EWI system. "Police officers don't want to spend their day shuffling papers and driving to the courthouse," says Camp.

Are You A Candidate For EWI?
While Georgia has over 150 counties, Chris Alexander of Federal Data Systems says not every county needs to implement the EWI system. "A county has to be large enough in size and population to justify this system," says Alexander. "About 30% of the counties in Georgia could benefit from the EWI system."

While Alexander is touring Georgia with his company's latest application, Camp has been fielding calls from across the United States. "We have received more inquiries than we ever expected," says Camp. "The application seems to be of particular interest to states in the southwest. In some counties in New Mexico and Arizona, officers have to drive 100 miles to get to a courthouse."

Closing The Case With Technology
On March 17, 1998, the first arrest warrant in Gwinnett County using EWI was issued. Judge Joseph Iannazzone of Gwinnett County Magistrate Court swore in Detective Victor DeSaresi and reviewed the impending arrest warrant using EWI. The judge and the detective were 15 miles apart and the process took under 15 minutes.

A process that routinely took more than two hours has been reduced to minutes. While television and movies rarely reflect the reality in which we live, that may be changing slightly in Gwinnett County. The phrase "Book'em, Danno" no longer means time to start the paperwork. Rather, it signals a simple end to an arrest process. Fade to black and start a new case.