Minnesota develops e-filing system to reduce pain points for police

Monday, June 7, 2010

ST. PAUL, Minn.—Once upon a time, police officers in Minnesota had to physically transport criminal complaints to the courthouse, a process that was both time consuming and frustrating for law enforcement. However, the state is currently in the midst of deploying a state-wide system that allows law enforcement to electronically file criminal cases and better track those cases.

Tom Miller has spent the last four-and-one-half years as the project manager developing the state’s eCharging system for the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, which is the state’s storehouse for criminal data. The eCharging system is basically a Web site that congregates data from disparate systems used by various state agencies and then translates that information into a format that allows it to be integrated and accessed by other agencies. The state is currently in the midst of deploying the system state wide, and at the end of May had integrated the system into nine counties, with 78 more to go.

This system removes the physical part and travel required to prosecute criminal cases. Police are responsible for delivering criminal complaint documents directly to the attorney’s office for prosecution, and with more than 100,000 criminal complaints filed a year, that was a lot of wasted time for officers. “Police could easily burn an hour in travel time carrying pieces of paper around,” he said.

With the eCharging system, law enforcement can electronically sign criminal complaints, select the prosecutor who has been assigned the case and send the document directly to them via the eCharging Web site. The attorney then signs in electronically, reviews the case and either accepts or rejects the case, and either way the officer is sent a notice of the status.

However, there were some challenges in getting the state to accept electronic signatures as valid, said Miller. “Electronic signatures are new in Minnesota and we’ve been working with the court to allow it. We were approved for the pilot test and close to authorization [for the eCharging system] and expect it to be passed this month,” he said. In order to strengthen the system, the state has integrated a biometric element that requires police officers to submit their fingerprint using a fingerprint reader from BioKey. A notary public must also be present and swipe their finger as well, verifying the officer’s identity.

While this system offers direct benefits to law enforcement, creating the adapters that allow different jurisdictions and agencies to communicate with one another is monumental for Minnesota’s judicial system. “This allows for accurate linking of criminal history data and gives us a better idea of who someone is and their criminal history and allows us to identify them faster and reduces the chance they will slip through the system,” said Miller.

The first, and most time consuming and challenging piece, was to get all the different systems to talk to each other. “Getting those adapters written was a challenge because of validation rules and it had to be written in a way that was user friendly. Dealing with data compatibility has been an uphill battle.”

In addition to improving workflow process, the eCharging system also reduces the amount of data entry errors. When a complaint is filed, the system automatically maps the existing information directly into the receiving department’s data system, thus reducing chances errors will be made when re-entering the information.

The system also tracks complaints and allows users to query the system by date to locate outstanding cases and helps ensure paperwork doesn’t get overlooked. “It’s not uncommon for a criminal complaint to get lost and sent downstream where it ends up not getting pushed forward or falls off someone’s desk,” he said. “Sometimes a felony will not get prosecuted because the paperwork got lost.”

Developing his system and getting all the disparate systems to work together is crucial to the addition of future capabilities for the state. Miller said once the system is fully deployed the state will be able to add more programs that will further improve how criminal cases are processed.