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Reducing redundancy in report writing

By Sam Simon
Law Enforcement Technology
April 2005

Posted courtesy of Law Enforcement Technology

Great job. Now do it again.

This cliché phrase can lower the morale of any person who went to great lengths to ensure accuracy and perfection the first time a task is completed.

Members of law enforcement deal with this every day when filling out reports. After completing a report at the scene — having collected information with the greatest amount of accuracy and completeness — officers are then forced to repeat the process to create an electronic copy.

The same attention to detail goes into the electronic form to ensure it is a carbon copy of the form created in the field. This redundant effort takes away time officers could be patrolling the streets or accomplishing more important tasks.

In order to reduce the redundant processes officers are faced with, is2be of San Jose, California, has created the Intuitive Pen, which takes what an officer has written and converts it into an electronic form, eliminating the need to re-key an entire form.

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Gaining back time
The Santa Clara (California) Police Department's process of entering forms is most likely on par with many departments around the country. An officer has to write the information down on a piece of paper, come back to either his car or the station and re-enter it by typing it into the computer.

Roger Luebkeman, consultant and retired officer of the Santa Clara PD, explains their situation saying, "Someone had to hand write a report, and then someone would enter it into the computer and into the records management system. There has always been built-in redundancy for many years."

The Intuitive Pen now offers the opportunity to cut down on the time-consuming repetitive processes of capturing information and creating electronic copies. "My goal has always been to reduce redundancies," says Luebkeman, principal of MTI Software Solutions. "It's just a waste of an officer's time to hand write information and come back and type it in again. It really needs to be done more efficiently, and this is one of the tools that will do it."

This pen can save officers time since data collected in the field will not need to be retyped. Every stroke created by this pen is saved. When inserted into the docking station, the stored information is used to create an electronic version of every form completed with the pen. All officers need to do at this point is verify the electronic form and make any corrections as needed.

Connect the dots
is2be uses paper with mathematically placed dots to allow the Intuitive Pen to recognize handwriting. As the pen is used, a camera records the dots and stores the location of each stroke on the page. Since the dots are placed in specific locations, the pen can interpret where it is on each piece of paper.

The dots act as a quadrant system, so when the pen sees the dots, it is capturing that it is at X and Y. When writing across the paper the pen can tell it has gone through XY, 1X1Y, 2X2Y and it connects the quadrant.

To retrieve the information, the pen is inserted into the docking station, which is connected to a computer through a USB cable. This information is then transferred to the computer and the software converts it into typed text within the form. Users can see what they wrote and tab through the fields to make any needed changes.

"When the pen has been docked, the computer has a template of all these XY coordinates," explains Arthur James, president of is2be. "So it knows that if it was at this XY coordinate, for example, it was in the first name field."

Filling out forms
With each page having an original dot design, officers can work on multiple forms without disrupting the pen. "If there are five different forms you are working on, you can jump around to each of them," says James. "You can fill in the first name on one form, and collect evidence and write down the evidence name on a different form. You can literally jump from form to form."

Being able to shuffle between forms is one reason Luebkeman believes that the Intuitive Pen would outperform the PDA or a tablet PC in emergency situations where data is not coming in sequentially. "In a non-emergency you can ask what's your name, what's your address," explains Luebkeman. "In an emergency situation, you start asking their name and address and you're interrupted by person No. 2 and you write down some of their data." Filling out multiple reports and having to go back and forth would be almost impossible or very difficult on a PDA or other digital device.

The Intuitive Pen also supports multiple copies of a single form by supplying departments with more original dot pattern forms than they would use in one day. This system allows a department to fill out multiple versions of a single form in one day without confusing the pen.

When filling out forms, the need to make corrections on the page are bound to occur. To correct the mistake with Intuitive Pen, the officer simply has to horizontally cross out the incorrect section and write the new information above it. The application will show the second word that was written when displayed on the computer screen.

After the information has been loaded onto the computer and corrected of any errors, the data is able to be exported in almost any format possible. This allows departments to then move the data to a records management system (RMS).

The pen is mightier than the standard day
It is improbable that the storage capacity of the pen will be filled in a single day. The pen is able to record the amount of data equivalent to 40 pages of handwritten text. "Say you're filling out 40 reports, but you only fill out half of each report, you can do about 80 pages," notes James. "It's not the number of pages, it's how much data you write. It's more than someone can write in a day."

The power supply of the pen has been created to endure the length of the day as well. In stand-by mode, which is having the pen cap off without writing, the pen can last for 10 hours, and there is enough power to sustain 3 hours of continuous writing. The pen is then recharged when it is in the docking station and takes about 30 minutes to fully charge from a depleted battery. The ink comes in a standard cartridge that can be purchased at any stationary store.

There also are no light restrictions with the Intuitive Pen. The pen has an infrared light that illuminates the dots for the camera, permitting the user to be in pitch black or full sunlight — which can often wash out electronic screens — and still have the pen capture all the information.

Handwriting recognition
With the pen, handwriting can be kept relatively normal. The penmanship has to be a little neat, but a user's writing typically stays unchanged due to the fact that writing on a piece of paper is familiar.

Luebkeman found that the pen recognized his writing quickly. "When is2be first came to me with the pen, it actually picked up my handwriting quite well, without any training, and I'm left handed."

One way is2be ensures accuracy in handwriting identification by backing forms with tables. A table can be assigned to the fields of each form. For example, there may be a list of every make of car or every street name within a city. If it's always a number field or a date field, a table can be set up to reflect this. Even if the handwriting isn't clear, the program will look at the table first to see if it has any matches and generally it will fine one. The only areas where tables can't be used are in fields such as long e-mail addresses. Everything around an area, such as ZIP codes and surrounding cities, can have a table built behind the field and the recognition will be that much more accurate.

As the pen is used more, a dual-training system starts to occur between the user and the pen. Users train the computer to recognize their handwriting. Then the computer starts training the user — it prefers to have 2s and Zs written a certain way or Is and 1s so it can tell them apart. An officer's handwriting will likely adapt because it gets that much easier and there are less corrections to be made.

"The correction process initially is the most difficult transition," says Luebkeman. "As you start learning it, your corrections start becoming less and less."

Intuitive Pen in use
Luebkeman has incorporated the Intuitive Pen with the Santa Clara crime reports. This form allows officers to hand write everything but the narrative. "I built an interface that converts the data, sends it to my database and then it goes to a format that the report management system will accept. So we've got it where officers can hand write their report, go through a conversion process and then send it right into the RMS."

Luebkeman also has it tied into evidence tracking. "I have created an evidence tracking program where the officers fill out the evidence report in the field. There is a carbon copy so they actually give one copy out as a receipt and then they're able to come into the station, dock the pen and it will bring the data in and start printing out the barcode labels for them."

Using Intuitive Pen's application to create electronic copy and compile it with technology to send forms for review directly from a cruiser may bring a different cliché into the officer's work day. Great job; now get back to work.

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