Keeping the police out of the office and on the street

With a population of 1.1 million spread across 908 square miles, police officers in Michigan's Oakland County were often in pursuit-of paperwork. Whenever a local sheriff's office or a smaller police precinct needed a warrant to arrest a suspect, an officer had to drive to the county seat, sit down with a prosecutor and discuss the evidence.

"Travel and queuing time in the prosecutor's office was a real problem," said Robert Daddow, director of the county's management and budget department and the former director of information technology. "Getting a warrant might take an officer four hours. Often officers would wait and wait, only to speak with a prosecutor for 20 minutes and find out they needed to go back to their own office across the county to do more work and then come back for another meeting at a later date."

Now the county, located just north of Detroit, has cut police runaround time dramatically by installing a teleconferencing system that enables prosecutors to approve arrest warrants electronically. The system, provided in a turnkey configuration from Ameritech Corp., has boosted the productivity of its law enforcement offices by letting the police do what they do best: solving crimes.

"People queue up from their own desks and get real work done while they are waiting to speak with a prosecutor," Daddow said. "It is staggering to think of how many wasted [work hours] this can free up. The net benefit of this project is estimated to be 20 more officers in the county who are working rather than sitting and waiting for a meeting or traveling to or from a meeting."

To obtain a warrant, an officer calls the prosecutor's office, schedules a videoconference and exchanges documents over a dial-up connection. If everything is in order, a signed warrant is printed out on a local laser printer. The system, which costs $16,000 for each turnkey package, includes a Pentium-based PC, PictureTel teleconferencing software, a scanner and a laser printer. The total deployment for each of the county's 46 separate law enforcement offices was about $750,000.

A dial-up Integrated Services Digital Network connection-available in most of Oakland County-is used for voice, image and data communication. This makes it fairly easy to tie offices together that are not wired into the county's network, said John Mahoney, director of information technology.

Not only has the warrant-teleconferencing project boosted productivity, it also has made it possible to keep potentially dangerous suspects off the streets. In August 1996, an alleged child molester being interviewed at the Farmington Hills police department office-about 30 miles from Pontiac-was served an arrest warrant before the interview ended because of the teleconferencing application.

According to Farmington Hills police inspector Marty Bledsoe, the timing was critical in the case because the suspect could have easily destroyed evidence in his apartment before a warrant could have been issued under traditional procedures. The warrant-teleconferencing system enabled officers to obtain a search warrant application for the suspect's apartment, nail down incriminating evidence and process an arrest warrant before the interview was completed.

The application was so well-received that jurisdictions that originally opted out of the pilot project complained about being omitted, said Rhonda Taber, a user-support specialist with the county. "After they saw how helpful it was, they demanded to be put on-line as soon as possible," Taber said.

-- Barry D. Bowen is an industry analyst and writer with Bowen Group Inc., based in Bellingham, Wash. He can be reached at xeno@bgroup.com.

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