Calif. sheriff adopts paper-free crime report database

By Liz Neely
San Diego Union-Tribune

SAN DIEGO, Calif. — The Sheriff's Department is rolling out a new records management system that is expected to transform the way the county's law enforcement agencies share information and solve crimes.

Crime reports will be filed in a computer database within hours instead of days or weeks. Reports will be easily searchable, allowing agencies to identify trends and serial criminals a lot quicker, officials said.

Eventually, law enforcement will be able to better track sex offenders, documented gang members, arsonists, pawn shop activities, warrants, restraining orders and more.

Photos, video and sound files can be attached and, ultimately, police reports will be sent digitally to the District Attorney's Office, the county Probation Department and others. A mobile version will be tested in some sheriff's patrol cars next month.

The system, created by Motorola using Microsoft products, “gives a bigger, smarter picture of what's happening and where it's happening,” said Lt. Kirby Beyer, who is head of the project for the Sheriff's Department.

The software is already used in all North County sheriff's stations. South and east stations are next. All will be online by January.

The Sheriff's Department serves unincorporated communities and contracts with nine of the county's 18 cities for police services. All of those cities are planning to use the system.

In October, El Cajon will become the region's first city police department to sign up. Other cities will follow. The only holdouts are San Diego, Escondido and Carlsbad.

San Diego implemented its digital records management system about six years ago, said Pat Drummy, the department's director of administrative services. San Diego is watching the Sheriff's Department's progress, he said, and hasn't ruled out a switch.

“If the point comes where (their) system provides better service than the one we are currently utilizing, then we'd certainly entertain looking at it,” Drummy said.

The cost to the Sheriff's Department is about $5 million, but the expense is much less for agencies that use the service. El Cajon, for example, has budgeted $200,000 for hardware and software.

The county's law enforcement agencies already share digital crime data through the Automated Regional Justice Information System, or ARJIS, but the information is not always up to date. The new system will make more detailed information available faster.

In several departments, for example, officers file paper reports and someone else enters the information into a computer. The new system will allow officers to file directly to the Motorola database, and will automatically send the information to ARJIS.

Chula Vista Lt. Tom Leonard said the project “really does strengthen our relationship with other agencies around us.”

The more information available, officials say, the better the system will be.

“Criminals are moving from city to city and around the county and ARJIS has shown us that many times there are series of particular types of crime – robberies for instance,” Leonard said. “Only by having regional data available are we able to link those cases.”

For example, if a dented blue van is reported at an El Cajon crime scene, investigators could use the software to search law enforcement files across the county to see if the same van was reported at other crime scenes.

“It's no longer going to be like finding a needle in a haystack,” said Gary Rapp, information services manager for the El Cajon Police Department.

Switching from paper to digital records is an arduous process. The Sheriff's Department began the task in 2001, when law enforcement leaders decided a comprehensive records management system was the county's most critical need, said Chuck Brown, manager of integrated justice applications for the Sheriff's Department.

The system is being implemented in phases. Next, the department will supplement the system by adding registrants, business licenses and property and evidence.

Copyright 2007 San Diego Union-Tribune

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