Sarasota Co., Fla., Commits to Cutting-Edge System

Sarasota County, Fla., is embarking on a major project to link its local criminal justice agencies on a World Wide Web-enabled information system.

The goal is to automate the work done by Sarasota County's nine separate criminal justice agencies while linking all of the group's systems together. Everyone from arrest booking to probation to the state attorney's office to the public defender would be able to share information. Plus, the public would be able keep tabs on the various phases of the judicial process by checking on the Internet.

Because so many of those agencies rely on the same information but maintain it separately, it made sense to find a way to share the data and the work, said Karen Rushing, Sarasota County's Clerk of the Circuit Court.

"Obviously, it costs more money, and it's redundant," she said.

Ideally, linking the systems also would cut down on mistakes and get information disseminated faster to all interested parties, Rushing said.

Sarasota recently signed a multimillion-dollar deal with Cotelligent Inc. to do consulting and outsourcing for the project. Rushing expects the changeover to take two years.

The change is requiring an enormous amount of collaboration between the agencies, including some tedious revamping of longstanding and accepted ways of doing business, Rushing said. For example, some agencies will have to pass responsibilities that have long been theirs onto others, trusting the new parties to have everyone's best interests at heart.

Rushing said that's a key reason that more governments around the country aren't making similar changes. "The lines get blurry," she said.

The new system also will lead Sarasota County toward a paperless process, but Rushing said that's a long way off because without legislation mandating electronic transactions, only the county agencies will be required to file things that way.

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