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Central Booking Center Technology Provides Boost to Coatesville, Penn. Police

Chester Daily Local Online

Penn. District Attorney Joseph Carroll predicts that 20 years from now, every police department will have technology to positively identify people for crimes.

Until then, departments will just have to share.

That’s part of the appeal of a central booking center in the county -- a pilot project that the district attorney’s office has been trying for the past two years. Combined with a video arraignment system, the goal is that the new system would cut down costs for criminal transport and put officers back on the street after making arrests in a shorter amount of time.

The central booking center is currently being tested in Coatesville, where the city police station is already equipped with state-of-the-art fingerprinting and mug shot technology and jail holding cells for men and women that are under surveillance 24 hours a day.

According to Carroll, Tredyffrin, West Whiteland and West Goshen may also be fully operational regional booking centers by the end of the year.

"Right now, because of the cost of equipment, we’re trying to get it regional," said Carroll. "It’s certainly a better way to do business. A lot of things are a good way to do business, we just can’t afford it all."

Here’s how it’s supposed to work:

A police officer sees a person committing a crime and places the person under arrest. The officer fills out a police criminal complaint which lists what charges are being filed against the person and an affidavit of probable cause. The defendant and the complaint are then brought to the central or regional booking center.

With the new system, the officer can drop the defendant off and get back onto the street to continue patrol.

In the old system, the officer would have to stay with the defendant through the rest of the process.

The defendant would be kept at the booking center until the time a district justice could arraign him -- or make sure that the person understands the charges he’s being accused of -- and set bail.

But, before his arraignment, the defendant must be processed. That procedure includes taking the person’s fingerprints and a mug shot.

Technology at select stations -- the ones where the regional booking centers are being proposed -- includes equipment called Live Scan and C-PIN.

C-PIN is the Commonwealth Photo Identification Network.

Live Scan takes a person’s fingerprints and compares them to a database of fingerprints across the state and country.

If a person gives a false name or is wanted by another police agency for another crime, Live Scan takes the guess work out of trusting the word of the criminal, officials said.

A "personal history" and criminal history is taken from the defendant and then those documents, together with the criminal complaint, are faxed to the district justice on call during those evening or weekend hours.

The documents are faxed back to the central booking center where the defendant signs his copy and the district justice arraigns him over the video equipped at both the center and all 19 district courts in the county.

Bail is set and a hearing date is scheduled. The person is given an opportunity to post bail to either the district court where the justice is presiding or to the booking center where the defendant is located. From there, the person is either released from the booking center if bail requirements are met or transported to prison.

In the old system, all of those things would be done with the officer who arrested the person by his side to watch him. The officer would also be the chauffeur to the district court on call that evening, whether it be down the street or across the county.

"It’s much more effective than having to do everything yourselves," said John Bennett, police chief of Caln, one of the departments taking part in the pilot program. "It gets our officers back on the street."

Caln police have been a part of the test program since its inception, which was before Bennett was brought in as chief. At the time in his old department in Marple, Delaware County, central booking wasn’t an option.

He said he sees the difference.

"I’ve got nothing but good things to say because it clears my officers in a very short amount of time," Bennett said.

Having the ability to use the Live Scan system -- a technology too costly for each individual station -- is also an added bonus.

"This gets accurate information right away to a district justice, whether a defendant lies to you or not. You want to know when you set bail, you want to know who it is you’re dealing with and you’re not at the mercy of the identification they’re carrying or what they tell you," said Carroll.

It’s that Live Scan technology that Carroll predicts will become commonplace in a few decades.

The equipment in the district courts is also used to do video arraignments with inmates at Chester County Prison without having to transport them to a district court.

District Justice Robert Davis said that he likes doing the video arraignments and wished that the system would be used more regularly than it is.

He said even though it’s through a video screen, it still is a live-time conversation that he’s having with the defendants.

"We’re face-to-face on the television," he said.

In addition to the improved technology available to more departments, the benefits of the system, according to Carroll, include less travel, less opportunity for criminal escapes and getting more officers back out on the streets.

But, like every pilot program, there are still some kinks to be worked out.

The central booking center is supposed to be staffed primarily by constables.

Carroll said, however, that he is having trouble finding constables willing to work the shifts, especially on the weekends.

Being paid a flat rate of $15 per hour, constables are being paid better than working guard duty, but can make more money serving warrants, Carroll explained. The pay rate is set by the county commissioners.

Shawn Riley, the warrant enforcement bureau administrator for the district attorney’s office, who schedules the shifts of the constables, was not available for comment.

When constables aren’t available to staff the center, officers are forced to stay with their defendants. That practice essentially defeats the attempt to get the officers back on the streets.

However, Carroll said that over the time period of the pilot program, staffing issues have gotten better. He strives to have them figured out by the end of the year, when officials will do a complete review of the program and its successfulness.

It costs about $65,000 to run a center. Grants provided the funding for 75 percent of the project. The county chipped in the other 25 percent.

"We’ve had a little bit of a rocky road with the pilot program so far, but it’s still encouraging," Carroll said. "What it adds is still worth the costs."

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