Enhanced Warrant Processing
By Tim Wacker, M.S.
The Marathon County, Wisconsin, Sheriff’s Department (MCSD) has reduced expenses and errors by automating the processing of warrants with innovative software contained within its electronic records management system. This department has virtually eliminated approximately one-dozen or so false warrant arrests each year. It also has realized six-figure labor-cost savings by minimizing the amount of paper processing and work involved in creating, validating, maintaining, and archiving arrest warrants.
As the largest in the state, Marathon County encompasses 11 different communities and nine law enforcement agencies that serve 140,000 people. For the past decade, its City-County Information Technology Commission (CCITC) has provided IT guidance and services to those populations, the city of Wausau, and a rehabilitation and counseling facility.1
Over the past few years, that assistance has included a rapid expansion of CCITC’s electronic records management system into the county’s 27 departments, converting their paper records stored in dozens of filing cabinets into electronic images contained in one shared computer server. While this change saved considerable time and space, in more recent years, CCITC further has modernized each of those departments through software stored within its shared electronic records repository.
Mr. Wacker is a freelance technical writer.
This system handles automatic indexing (done by extracting designated metadata from each document); electronic workflow; and forms that help with information capture, duplication, and distribution throughout the various offices and agencies. Built-in audit trails, document destruction schedules, and access restrictions keep documents secure for their lifespan. The software represents a quantum leap forward in records management, saving each department tens of thousands of dollars while eliminating mistakes and improving overall operational efficiency.2
MCSD officials became aware of these successes and turned to CCITC for guidance in digitizing and automating numerous agency operations, beginning with the time-consuming and cumbersome warrant process.
Slow Paper-Based Process
MCSD relied on its largely paper-driven warrant procedures for approximately a decade. Under this old system, the county needed 3 to 4 days to generate new warrants and a few more to cancel those no longer in effect. Paperwork could become lost or waylaid for amendments or corrections. Such processing delays allowed some criminals to remain free longer than they should have, while the holdups in deactivating warrants resulted in about a dozen false arrests each year.3
After authorization by a judge, the clerk of courts distributed paper warrants to MCSD via interoffice mail. Department employees created a manila folder for each, along with a label with the subject’s name and date of birth. An affixed green cover sheet allowed personnel to add notes to the file later.
Staff members printed all supporting documents—typically six to seven pages—and sent them to validation officers for filing. When an individual was detained on a warrant, the validation officers printed and added all of the appropriate documentation to the proper folder.
To cancel a warrant, MCSD staff filled out the green cover sheet, moved all of the documents to a different folder, and placed it in the canceled-warrants filing cabinet. Depending on the reason for the cancellation, personnel also may have faxed certain papers to the jail or completed and sent them to the clerk of courts.
Fast Software-Driven Method
Now, staff members process incoming warrants in as little as 1 hour, with none of the delays presented by the paper-based methods. After a judge authorizes them, employees route the documents directly to the clerk of courts. From there, personnel import the signed warrants into MCSD’s electronic records management system, giving dispatchers instant access to them via the software.
Only authorized personnel can use the new automated system. Countywide, this includes some 1,000 to 1,500 individuals across 28 different departments.4 Robust security software limits access only to these persons—this proves important to the processing and handling of criminal warrants. “Dispatchers can go in and very quickly look up the information and supply it in seconds to officers in the field. But, that access is limited. The communication process was much slower and less secure when they were using paper.”5
Unfortunately, on several occasions over the previous 4 years, MCSD officers mistakenly had arrested someone who already satisfied the conditions of the warrant. In each instance, the error occurred because the cancellation of the warrant had yet to move through the entire paper-based system. Understandably, the officers considered the warrant active. No such missteps have occurred since the deployment of the software.6
The labor savings from using an automated system are easily quantifiable. Now, the department saves an estimated 2 hours per warrant, which translates into 400 hours per month.7 Those officers can spend the additional time on other important activities. “This has really sped up our processes. Now, no one has to wait to find somebody. They don’t have to worry that someone is out of the office when they need to access warrant documents. It’s all right there.”8 Officers now validate warrants instantly, rather than review files monthly. The new system also has eliminated paper and storage costs.
In addition to transitioning the warrants, the records management system has enabled MCSD to cancel approximately 1,000 that no longer need yearly validation. The county has about 4,000 active warrants, a number that remains fairly steady. Typically, as one gets cleared, another one enters the system.
“The labor savings from using an automated system are easily quantifiable.”
Considering the success MCSD has experienced by using this automated system to administer
warrants, the agency expects to expand it to help manage protection orders and processes. CCITC recently incorporated software that eliminates manually reentering information—a common source of human error—as well as copying, mailing, and many other time-consuming tasks inherent in working with paper forms. “We have a whole list of projects I could see us using the software for. Everywhere we use business process automation, the more we work with it, the more we find we can do with it.”9
Although only Marathon County processes warrants electronically in Wisconsin, MCSD expects agencies in other locations to follow suit quickly. “It’s turned out to be a fantastic system that took us less than a year to get running. We’ve only had one error in our 11 months, and that was just a simple mistake involving a setting that needed to be changed. At this point, we’ve reduced our potential liability, which is a huge thing for us, while streamlining the entire process from days to hours.”10
By employing a computerized warrant system, the Marathon County, Wisconsin, Sheriff’s Department has reduced the time and costs involved in processing. Also, the software has mitigated human error. MCSD plans to expand the system to automate other agency functions. In view of these positive results, other departments likely will follow suit and switch from a paper-based system to a more modern, efficient approach. By doing so, they will enjoy great benefits.
“Considering the success MCSD has experienced by using this automated system to administer warrants, the agency expects to expand it….”
Mr. Wacker can be reached at Tim.Wacker@nbnpresscom.com.
1 For more information, see City-County Information Technology Commission, accessed February 5, 2018, http://www.citycountyit.org/.
2 Heather Giddings, analyst, City-County Information Technology Commission, Wausau, Wisconsin, interview by author.
3 Anthony Nardi, supervisor of dispatch, Marathon County, Wisconsin, Police Department, interview by author.