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The paperless police: Law enforcement agencies going green

These days, law enforcement agencies are seeing less and less paper and more and more computer screens.

The Clanton Police Department just started using a $34,000 record management software system that is bringing the city up to date. It’s all part of a plan to comply with the state’s “green mandate” requiring agencies to submit all reports electronically.

“By us having our own record management software, we can control our own data,” Police Chief Brian Stilwell said.

Sitting on Stilwell’s desk Wednesday were several stacks of police reports and a cumbersome code book, which represented the old way of doing things. In fact, he said, an officer could spend at least two hours per shift just doing paperwork.

Then there’s the office clerk’s task of looking up the codes for each individual report and filing them by hand.

That’s a handful, considering that Clanton PD files 275 incident/offense reports, about 60 accident reports, and between 30 and 40 arrest reports per month.

“It’s enough work for two people to do,” Stilwell said.

Now, however, high-speed scanners can scan both sides of a report simultaneously. Then, the report is electronically filed with the state rather than mailed. Also, reports can be burned to a disc and submitted to the DA’s office, city council, or whomever.

Saving time and paper are just two reasons Stilwell said the software is worth its weight in gold.

“While the up-front cost is pretty high, it will in the long run save on time and data entry,” he said. “Had we not started using this system this year, I could foresee having to hire another data entry clerk.”

The Jemison Police Department already has the Police-Pak system, which is identical to Clanton’s. Stilwell had the software installed in 2005 during his tenure as Jemison Police Chief.

While not all departments have on-site file management systems, larger departments like Clanton’s and growing ones like Jemison’s are quickly seeing the benefits.

“I think these requirements are not only beneficial to the state but also to us,” current Jemison Chief Shane Fulmer said. “It not only saves us money; it also helps us do our job more efficiently.”

Both departments are compliant with E-Crash, the state’s electronic filing system for accident reports. This means officers are trained in the software, and that each department has the capability to send reports via the Internet.

Then there’s E-Citation, another paperless program requiring portable computers to be installed in patrol cars. This will allow officers to scan and print citations directly from cars.

Clanton received a $255,000 Rural Development grant to equip all 25 patrol cars with computers.

The computers can even be removed from the cars and docked in an office to upload information.

Now, the department is waiting on vendors and installation. Stilwell said he hopes to be compliant with E-Citation by the first of 2010.

Meanwhile, Fulmer is keeping his fingers crossed that Jemison will get a similar grant.

“We don’t have E-Citation right now. It’s costly, but eventually we will have to have it to be in compliance with the state,” Fulmer said.