Gadgets, services help police officers save time, remain accurate
Mar 21, 2013 (St. Cloud Times - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
From GPS that can track a squad car to the electronic filing of DWI paperwork to digital video that documents traffic stops, technology is driving how law enforcement do their jobs.
A new wave of technology has allowed local law enforcement workers to be more efficient, cut down on paperwork and provide better evidence for prosecutors. And more innovation is on the way as the courts and law enforcement move closer to electronic filings of traffic citations to go with the e-filing of court complaints.
St. Cloud police and Stearns County deputies this month began using a mobile interpreting device that allows officers to do real-time translation of 180 languages through a hands-free device about the size of a cellphone.
That device, which clips to an officer's uniform, connects to a call center through a traditional phone. Officers have used it to assist a Somali mother in delivering a baby and to help conduct an assault investigation in Oromo.
Other advances include the electronic filing of the forms associated with a driving while intoxicated arrest. A handful of Stearns deputies have been trained to fill out the forms electronically, something that saves 10-15 minutes per arrest over hand-writing the forms.
The forms are sent electronically to the state motor vehicle department, and a PDF is saved in the sheriff's office computer system, avoiding the copying of forms and mailing that used to occur.
A swipe of the driver's license automatically fills in several of the fields on the DWI forms, and the form won't allow an officer to close it and send it if mandatory fields are left blank or data is entered with certain errors, said Lt. Bob Dickhaus of the Stearns County Sheriff's Office.
"It eliminates the risk of an officer missing a line, having something incorrect," he said.
What also helps those officers do their job is digital video, something Stearns County has had for years, and something St. Cloud police are just beginning to use. The video is shot in high definition, can be activated in several ways by the officer and already has recorded up to a minute once it's activated.
The officer or deputy can enter a number of tags that help the officer search later for the footage they want to see. Unlike the VHS tapes that St. Cloud officers were using until recently, the digital video is stored on servers, saving space.
In Stearns County, that video is automatically downloaded when the squad cars get near the downtown Law Enforcement Center or when they are inside the basement garage. Nodes inside the garage and on the exterior of the LEC sense the presence of the squad and import the video from the squad cameras.
"You don't have to take anything out or do anything special," Dickhaus said. "The cars pull up in the garage or around the building, and it automatically downloads."
That video system, from a company called Watchguard, can also record any conversations the officer has, the speed of the squad and its GPS location.
In addition to making for better quality evidence, it can help sort out citizen complaints about a deputy's behavior, said Lt. Jon Lentz.
"That's certainly not the primary function of any video system -- officer complaints. It's evidence gathering, evidence retention and preparing for court," Lentz said. "But it helps with that."
St. Cloud and Stearns County already have been using the e-charging software that allows criminal complaints to be reviewed and signed by officers and prosecutors and e-filed with the court, where a judge signs them electronically.
"That's worked out great since we started doing that," Lentz said.
The next frontier is when officers are able to write e-citations from their squad cars. The court system is moving in that direction, but it requires local departments to buy more equipment for the interior of their already crowded squads.
And in times of tight budgets, it comes down to having the money.
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