Queens DA has system that clicks

A system that the Queens District Attorney's Office launched three years ago to arraign defendants has resulted in the fastest processing times in New York City.

The Arrest to Arraignment Monitor is modeled after airport arrival and departure screens, displaying arrest summaries in rows of information, said Robert Schlesinger, director of information services, who helped create the system. The District Attorney's Office (www.queensda.org) handled more than 53,000 cases last year. The arrest summaries include case numbers, the name and date of birth of the individual arrested, the nature of the crime and its severity, the charge, and a narrative describing the events.

By clicking on the rows of information, Intake Bureau supervisors, who draft the complaints for court, can view the status of the 150 to 200 arrests per day that police officers make in their precincts. He said the system enables Intake Bureau official to be more hands-on, making everyone involved more accountable.

Defendants appear in front of a judge 19 hours after their arrests - the fastest among the five boroughs.

"The reason was the district attorney, Richard A. Brown, just felt it was necessary to be more proactive at the arrest-arraignment stage, the first part of the process," Schlesinger said. "We gave them a tool to be proactive, but there was a re-engineering obviously that would have to happen. Rules were developed where people were told that if there's a...case older than X number of hours you should look for it and make a phone call."

That's important, especially in cases of domestic violence, where time is crucial. "This allows us to identify the domestic violence case and reach out to the cop if we haven't heard anything on the case and to get on the phone and speak to the domestic violence victim," he said.

A certain percentage of arrests are processed "live," meaning their seriousness demands immediate attention by assistant district attorneys, who must interview police officers and possibly the complainant directly. However, most cases take several hours to process.

Before the monitoring system, the process was cumbersome. "A larger portion of the cases were those...where the cop would go to the police precinct and he would pull together all of his paperwork," Schlesinger said. Then, "he would go on to his own internal police department computer system and write up a draft of the complaint. And he would call us and say, 'This is what I have' and he would fax it to us and we would review it and we would fax it back and it was a whole process of reviewing that way."

The new system uses a Cache database, an open and flexible database created by Cambridge, Mass.-based InterSystems Corp., developed in Visual Basic programming language. Schlesinger said the Cache database is a bridge between the police officers, who can input their arrest information directly into the database, and the Intake Bureau workers, who use Visual Basic to create the statistical representation that makes up the Arrest to Arraignment Monitor.

The system stamps the time when complaints are completed and approved and also when users - police officers in 15 precincts and about 600 workers in the District Attorney's Office — access the information. Arrests are also color-coded to identify felonies and case status, among other things, and arrests can also be sorted by date and time.

Schlesinger said his office is considering whether the system should include digital photographs, which is useful in domestic violence cases, and digitized 911 calls.

"All those calls that were made since before Oct. 1 were all analog and were made available to our office and to the defense bar on cassette tape," he said. "New arrests after Oct. 1 have been digitized and right now they're being provided simply by CD-ROM."

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