Crisp County: Streamlining Information

In 2004, when Crisp County’s law enforcement and judicial communities began looking for an electronic solution to problems generated by mounting paperwork, they attracted the attention of 158 other Georgia counties staggering along their own paper trails.

“We were awash in paper duplication,” says Crisp County Commission Chair Ferrell Henry. “From the magistrate to the sheriff’s office to the clerk of court, whenever you’re trying to put together a case, it is very difficult if the parties are dealing with the same information. A typographical error, whether it’s the misspelling of a name, the transposing of a number or a misplaced comma, any of those things can make a disconnect. This is not a new problem and it’s not unique to Georgia.”

The search for a means to streamline – and ensure the accuracy of – information in Crisp’s criminal justice system, particularly among the arrests and warrants processes, attracted widespread attention, as well as a flood of willing partners.

Crisp County’s Clerk of Superior Court, Jean Rogers, a former president of the Georgia Clerks of Court Association, launched the effort. “One of the main issues was the duplication of data, as well as the amount of time it takes up in each office reentering the same stuff over and over and over and over,” Rogers says.

A major concern was the apparent conflict of maintaining the individuality of each office in the judicial and law enforcement systems while creating an electronic records-keeping process that allowed those offices to “talk” to one another.

The Crisp County Data Exchange Project was born in 2005 with a menu of lofty goals. According to its award application these include: improving the accuracy of criminal justice records; improving the efficiency and speed of the criminal justice process by allowing each agency to maximize its resources; reducing redundancy and duplication of data entry; providing access to real-time criminal justice data; controlling the jail population, and reducing unnecessary delay in court process.

It’s no wonder the ambitious project quickly drew support from professional law enforcement and judicial organizations. The Criminal Justice Coordinating Council of Georgia came forward with a $75,000 Edward Byrne grant, matched by $25,000 from the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia and the Georgia Public Defenders Standards Council.

The investments yielded months of study, consultations with computer data management experts and, finally, the selection of software vendor Metatomix to install a new, computerized method of keeping tract of warrants, arrests, bookings and the flux of jail populations.

“The beauty of this project is, rather than forcing all of us to go on one big system countywide, we now share a system tailored to our individual needs, but one that can be shared,” Rogers says. “The system is being expanded to include several other [neighboring] counties that are interested.” Three other counties in the Cordele Judicial Circuit have been brought aboard, “And we have been contacted by [the counties of] Cherokee, Laurens and Coweta for information,” Rogers adds.

Research and planning for the Crisp County study of electronic data collection, storage and exchange was so carefully done that the pilot project quickly became the working model, one that’s finding a widening appeal, Rogers says. “Our basic core exchanges can be implemented anywhere,” she says. “And other counties will not have to spend so much time mapping the exchanges between agencies; but the [software] may have to be tweaked to accommodate their business processes.”

There are other, less tangible benefits available to any and all takers – Crisp County’s neighborly generosity. “We are trying to set this up with the Criminal Justice Coordin-ating Council so that other counties and judicial circuits can apply for grants,” Rogers says. “We will help them through the whole process.”

Early reviews show the electronic mapping and exchanges are creating greater efficiency along the county’s justice system paper trail. “This [new system] eliminated duplicate data entry, including errors, delays in timely decisions and wasted personnel time, while providing knowledge about cases that was not previously known,” Rogers says. “We will be presenting this to the executive branch and the legislative branch very soon.”

Henry, a savvy vote getter, saw the new data system unfold through the eyes of a politician who understands the nature of turf protection. “Generally speaking, when you’re talking about constitutional officers and magistrates, they are very unhappy when somebody starts playing in their business,” he says. “There is a good reason why this is a success. And that is, to no small extent, the willingness of our [criminal justice system] officers to cooperate and participate for the greater good.”

While the Crisp project focused on the paperwork used by law enforcement, jails and the courts to track criminal cases, the process could be molded to fit the civil law paper trails, Rogers says.

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