June 15, 2009 By Corey McKenna
Filing criminal complaints in Minnesota has its challenges shared by metro police officers and county sheriff's deputies alike. "Having to drive into the city in order to get that work done can take a lot of time during rush hour traffic, or even normal traffic, finding a parking spot [and] going through the maze of a building," said David Johnson, executive director of the Minnnesota Justice Information System (MNJIS).
St. Louis County has an area of 6,860 square miles. Ely, Minn., police officers must drive 60 miles to Virginia, Minn., to file paperwork for criminal complaints. According to Johnson, this usually requires two roundtrips -- 240 miles for Ely officers
Partly because of the travel requirements, preparing a criminal complaint can take up to a day.
Last March, the state began an electronic filing pilot to address these challenges.
The system -- developed by Minnesota-based Intertech -- allows an officer to complete the required paperwork from his home station. The paperwork is then sent to the prosecutor who reviews it and decides if there is enough evidence to issue a complaint. Once the prosecutor has reviewed it, he sends it back to the officer who signs it with an electronic fingerprint and a notary gives the oath of affirmation and signs the complaint with an electronic signature. From there, the paperwork is sent to a judge for signing. Then it is sent right into the court's computer system. Everyone involved in the process can track the progress of a filing to see which judge has it and whether he has signed it or not.
BIO-key's WEB-key fingerprint identification software was used to authenticate the officer's signature. "They understood that passwords, ID cards and 'electronic tokens' can be easily shared, lost or forgotten," said Charles Yanak, a BIO-key spokesman.
The Secretary of State also wanted to validate the notary's electronic signature and commission validity as an electronic notary. "So we have a registry that does that," said Timothy Reiniger, executive director of the National Notary Association. "In our issuance process we have what is called a national eNotary Registry that the state can ping to validate that [someone] is still a commissioned notary."
MNJIS staff estimate 100,000 criminal complaints are filed annually in the state and an additional 40,000 people are arrested for driving while intoxicated. The eCharging Service is expected to save a half hour per DWI arrest and 45 minutes per criminal complaint for a total statewide annual savings of 95,000 staff hours valued at $1.9 million.
The system also allows law enforcement agencies that have an electronic records management system (RMS) to send citations from their RMS to directly to the courts.
The pilot is seeing significant results. the charging process -- that used to take as much as a day -- can now be done in as little as half an hour.
"It [has] tremendous value in the saving of staff time, tremendous value in the saving of resources -- wear and tear on vehicles and certainly not burning up gasoline and wasting fossil fuel," Johnson said.
Local law enforcement who have used the system have found it very helpful, "It takes a little while to get used to it; [but] once you do, it works beautifully," said Virginia, Minn., Police Chief Dana Waldron.
The state is funding the pilot with about $1.9 million which will cover the costs of the pilot in St. Louis County and the addition of Kandiyohi, Olmsted and Carver Counties later this summer. That includes the cost of designing the interface between the local records management systems and the system at the state level. "There will be added cost to deploy across the rest of the state," said Oded Galili, deputy