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OakVideo: efficiency and cost savings through cooperation.

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Consider the logistics behind arresting, arraigning, bailing, and remanding offenders. Transportation is traditionally at the center of the process, with police officers having to travel to other jurisdictions to get an arrest warrant, transport the prisoner to the appropriate courthouse to get an arraignment, and generally use valuable time on work that does little to enhance crime prevention or crime solving.

But what if expensive, insecure, risky, and time-consuming prisoner transportation and document handling could be replaced by an electronic process? Oakland County, Michigan, built upon a strong information technology (IT) infrastructure to deliver a system that uses teleconferencing instead of prisoner transports for obtaining warrants and arraigning suspects. This system, known as OakVideo, has achieved its goals so well the county has trademarked it. Furthermore, the county shares the system with other law-enforcement agencies in southeastern Michigan through a 30-year-old partnership for sharing IT applications.

OakVideo and its trademarked key component, DigitalArraignment, work by providing two basic functions: an Internet protocol-based records management system (RMS) to support document workflow and detective research, and multipoint videoconferencing for processing prisoner arraignments and arrest warrants. Court security has been enhanced because prisoners "appear" in court via videoconferencing, and police time has been saved by transferring dockets and arrest warrants electronically, so detectives do not have to go prosecutors' offices or wait in line.

The RMS and videoconferencing systems have saved $6.1 million in 21 months (including benefits derived by local police departments and courts). Returns on investment are expected to improve further as other videoconferencing applications currently under development go live over the next several years (see Exhibit 1).

Assisting and improving local government operations is a high priority for the county executive and the Board of Commissions, and their vision--along with that of court benches within the county--is responsible for the program's success. In addition, because the Oakland County IT department is a service bureau for county and local government applications, existing infrastructure and partnerships between local governments provided strong support for the OakVideo project.

The key physical development supporting the system was the completion in 1999 of OakNet, a 480-mile network of Gigabit fiber optics connecting all city, village, and township administrative, police, fire, court, and other facilities to a centralized service bureau. OakNet connects the IT department and local government units for high-speed data, voice and video transmissions, Internet access, and e-mail service. (See Exhibit 2 for the characteristics of Oakland County and the technical requirements for OakVideo and Exhibit 3 for a schematic of OakVideo and OakNet.)

CLEMIS ORGANIZATION

The existing partnerships among local governments had long been institutionalized by the Courts and Law Enforcement Management Information System (CLEMIS). CLEMIS has been operating for 30 years as a clearinghouse for shared applications whose IT infrastructure is operated and subsidized by Oakland County It is a consortium of approximately 225 public safety entities (police, sheriff, prosecutors, courts, fire, and homeland security) in a six-county region in Southeastern Michigan. CLEMIS provides 25 system applications to its members, including OakVideo.

At the outset of the needs analysis and design phases of the OakVideo project, Oakland County secured assistance from all entities that would be affected to ensure that their operating needs would be met. Oakland County was funding the cost of development and deployment of OakVideo (which is the case with most other CLEMIS projects), and the project attracted active and enthusiastic participation quickly. Generally, there was no resistance to the change in operations, although several judges did object to videoconferencing in lieu of face-to-face arraignments and chose not to make use of the service.

The actual deployment required far more effort than originally expected, however, because the OakVideo design and program needs were more sophisticated than the state-of-the-art videoconferencing equipment and software could initially support. On a number of occasions, work-around solutions were required because the equipment or software available could not meet a requirement. County engineers were eventually able to overcome all the equipment and software obstacles.

Despite some significant early glitches, staff was able to use some system functions right away Warrant processing, which had not been envisioned as a major part of the system, was a notable early adopter. Oakland County's original deployment model called for the individual district courts to go live at the same time as police departments within that court's jurisdiction. Because of deployment delays at the courts, however, county officials decided to wire and deploy all of the police department/sheriff substation offices and holding cells, even though they were not yet able to communicate to the related district courts. Law enforcement officers immediately began using the system to secure warrants, reducing their need to travel to the prosecutor's office, and the warrant teleconferencing component of the system was born. The quote "build it and they will come" definitely applies to this case of users finding a use for new technology.
Exhibit 1: Videoconferencing Modules Under
Development

The following OakVideo modules are under development
to enhance the system's benefits to Oakland County and
local government units:

* Jail visitation--avoids direct family-to-inmate contact
and mitigates transfer of contraband

* In-custody parent/child visitation--allows video visitation
of children held by Oakland County with parents

* Telemedicine mitigates transport of inmates
to emergency rooms for minor health-care needs

* Court recording provides a full-feature application for
recording trial testimony, including voice-to-text translations

* Centralized after-hours arraignments--decreases
police holding-cell costs and related exposures

* Remote testimony--permits live expert witness testimony
via videoconferencing in courtroom settings, avoiding
unnecessary adjournments

* File access--allows Web-based access to offender files
for defense attorneys (mitigating clerical and filing tasks)

* Tower surveillance--provides remote video surveillance
of public safety tower system to mitigate theft and vandalism
(with a similar system being installed for water and sewer
operations)

* Centralized docket scheduling system--mitigates conflicts
between courtroom requests for offenders held on
multiple charges


DIGITAL ARRAIGNMENT

At the heart of OakVideo is the multipoint video arraignment and its related RMS. Most video arraignment systems are "point-to-point:' with a single point (usually the local police department) sending a video signal that is directly connected to a receiving courtroom. Point-to point systems, however, cannot be used for an extensive overhaul like the one undertaken by Oakland County Redesigning offender processing between local government and county operations required multipoint videoconferencing capabilities, integrated with workflow management and RMS that also connect different levels of government. The videoconferencing equipment, related software, and OakNet simultaneously connect district and circuit courts, the prosecutor's office, county jail or police holding cells, and law-enforcement departments.

OakVideo also has embedded workflow management and RMS for all text, forms, reports, digital pictures, videos, voice fines, and any other file that can be converted to a digital form. The Web-based RMS centralizes all offender files at the IT department, making them accessible by all parties associated with the criminal process--police officers, prosecutors, courts, community corrections and probation officers (who can assist in setting bail bonds), and defense attorneys. OakVideo automates the paper flow from the police computer in the patrol vehicle through to the final court arraignment hearing, mitigating the use of paper files, faxes, and related clerical filing and copying tasks.

The workflow and records management capability is as easy to learn and use as an e-mail system because it uses hyperlinks to accomplish its functions, ensuring the timely processing and sharing of data. The system has eliminated frustration and scrambling for lost, misplaced, or incomplete files. Video arraignment files are automatically backed up locally and also transferred via file transfer protocol to a central server at the IT department for permanent storage. Online access to documents and digital video recordings of arraignments conducted by video is expected to be available for three to five years before additional storage is required.

The arraignment process takes between five and 30 minutes, but transporting the offender and processing files had taken hours, significantly delaying the arraignment process. The new system minimizes offender transport, reduces law-enforcement costs, increases court security, and facilitates handling of data among all law-enforcement and judicial officials, allowing dockets to be managed more efficiently

Law enforcement officers spent substantial amounts of time transporting offenders, often on overtime, as the police departments could not predict arrests of offenders in other jurisdictions. The multipoint functions of OakVideo enable the arresting police department to connect directly to the remote district court where the warrant was written, and the offender appears over the video connection without having to be moved. In addition, offenders housed in the county jail over the weekend for Monday arraignments no longer have to be transported for arraignment.

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Exhibit 2: Characteristics
of Oakland County and OakVideo

Oakland County

* 910 square miles, located directly north
of the City of Detroit, Michigan

* 62 cities, villages, and townships, with 41 police
departments and 13 sheriff substations acting
as local police departments

* 1.2 million residents

* countywide elected executive, 25 commissioners

* 15 district court offices, one central circuit court,
44 courtrooms equipped with OakVideo

* 31 holding cells

* 1 county jail

OakVideo

* more than 200 end points involving all police
departments and sheriff's substations, jail locations,
15 district courts, one circuit court, prosecutor's
office, community corrections/probation department,
and other locations

* more than 1,100 users throughout Oakland County

* comprising Polycom equipment, VS4000 and H323
Viewstations, powercams, and Accord MGC 100
and MGC 25 conferences bridges

* RMS built on the IBM Websphere software platform

* Web-based Codec control that permits the judge to
remotely adjust the holding cell cameras and lights

* digital signature capabilities

* standard computer


The new video arraignment process has saved money by allowing police officers to be redeployed from prisoner transport to more productive efforts in their districts. More than 7,000 arraignments were conducted via OakVideo between fall 2006 and fall 2007,saving an estimated $1.7 million in law-enforcement officer costs. That savings has allowed local police departments to retain police officers during economically trying times and provide more effective service to the public.

The reduction in prisoner transports and in-court appearances also addresses courtroom security, which has become a hot topic for local governments. In fact, several high-risk offenders escaped from a holding cell in one local district courthouse just before OakVideo was implemented there. There is a risk of escape any time offenders are moved. Also, when offenders are arraigned in-person in a courtroom, the family members of the victim and offender are often in close proximity, which can lead to volatility and occasionally results in courtroom security issues. Video arraignments bypass these security issues and related costs.

Recently, the county started implementing OakVideo in the family court operation of the circuit court and in the Childrens' Village operation (county housing for abused and neglected children and children charged with criminal offenses). In addition, when adult offenders are sentenced to county jail and no other arrangements can be made, the children in their charge are also housed in Childrens' Village. |n the past, visits between the children and their parents have been infrequent. With the anticipated extension of OakVideo's capabilities to include jail visitation, online visits between children and parents could become a reality. The county will also save on the cost of transporting children between Childrens'Village and the family courtroom.

Oakland County is also exploring "after hours" arraignments with the present users of OakVideo. Some district courts currently have magistrates available after normal weekly business hours and on weekends for arrests that require processing for police departments directly associated with that district court. This arrangement causes duplication of efforts, and there is no coverage for some of the 15 districts courts. With OakVideo, a magistrate can sit in the local district courtroom and arraign any offender arrested within the county, without moving the offender at all. This process will reduce holding-cell costs (feeding, observation, and medical, if necessary) and litigation risks (suicides, assaults, etc.). Police officers would be able to bring offenders into the precinct, take fingerprints and mug shots, perform arraignments, and immediately return to patrol duty

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WARRANT TELECONFERENCING

A second critical function of OakVideo is automating the warrant process between local law enforcement and the prosecutor's office.

Previously, a detective in a local police department would research a criminal incident, prepare a case file against the offender, and then seek an arrest warrant from the prosecutor. When the offender case file was complete, the detective would travel to the prosecutor's office, wait in line with detectives from other police departments who were also seeking warrants, and hope the prosecutor would grant the request. If the prosecutor required additional research by the detective, the warrant would be denied and the detective would return to the local police department, secure the additional field information, and do the whole thing over again. On average, securing a warrant in person takes a detective more than half a day Now, using OakVideo, a detective waits in line virtually, working in his office on other cases.

Almost all warrants can be completed using the system's videoconferencing workflow management and RMS components. Over the past year, more than 12,000 warrants were processed remotely through OakVideo, allowing for $2.1 million in time savings. Those resources can be redeployed into additional case investigations.

SOFTWARE

Given the unique nature of the videoconferencing system the county developed, it registered a copyright for the software. Oakland County tried in 2001 to locate an off-the-shelf product that would satisfy its business needs but was unable to identify a vendor that could meet its requirements. With OakVideo, the county effectively created its own product. It then secured an outside vendor to develop a commercial version of OakVideo, expand its capabilities to include modules listed in Exhibit 1, and market it to other governmental units. (1)

County officials hope software sales will generate a nominal licensing fee that could be used in maintaining Oakland's local videoconferencing system and developing new modules.

SUMMARY

OakVideo has transformed the way offender arraignments are being processed in Oakland County and transformed the relationship among the local police departments and the prosecutors in securing arrest warrants. The time saved by local law enforcement is being redeployed into more productive endeavors, including allowing law-enforcement officers to provide additional patrol services and work case files that might have otherwise gone unaddressed. The county has also had fewer security concerns related to holding offenders because fewer offenders are being transported to and from courtrooms and actually appearing in the courtrooms. While the benefits of a safer courtroom cannot be quantified monetarily, additional gains will accrue as the amount of security needed for courthouses and courtrooms decreases over the long term. The return on investment for the OakVideo applications already in use is substantial, and it is only expected to increase when additional applications (as identified in Exhibit 1) are developed and put into use.

Editor's note: In 2007, Oakland County, Michigan, received a Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA) Award for Excellence in government finance in management and service delivery for Oak Video.

Note

(1.) The vendor working with Oakland County developed a commercial version of OakVideo that is being marketed as Curiax Arraigner. For further product information, see the Simtrol Web site at www.simtrol.com.

ROBERT DADDOW is the deputy county executive for Oakland County, Michigan. He can be reached at daddowr@oakgov.com.
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Author:Daddow, Robert
Publication:Government Finance Review
Geographic Code:1U3MI
Date:Apr 1, 2008
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