Regional Processing Initiative: Keeping the Cops on the Street

Col. Milton M. Crump
Deputy Director, Prince George’s County, Maryland, Department of Corrections

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The Problem: Prisoner Proccessing in Prince George’s County

Prince George’s County, Maryland, established in 1696, has an urban atmosphere, with 38 towns and cities covering almost 500 square miles. The county government provides a variety of services to the more than 800,000 residents.1 Four agencies bear responsibility for public safety in the county. The Prince George’s County Police Department is the primary law enforcement agency, with six separate districts. Providing support are the Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department, Department of Corrections, and Office of the Sheriff.2 There are also 24 individual municipal police agencies, the Maryland state police, and federal law enforcement agencies working to protect lives and property in the county.3 Together these law enforcement agencies make approximately 40,000 arrests annually in Prince George’s County.4

In the past, the county’s public safety agencies along with the multiple municipal, state, and federal agencies worked independently of each other, focusing resources and operations within each group. As the county grew in both population and criminal activity, public safety concerns led officials to reevaluate the utilization of resources and the process of handling arrested persons.

As early as 1979, Prince George’s County public safety agencies recognized that prisoner processing procedures were time-consuming, inefficient, hazardous to officers, and fragmented across individual agencies.5 Major concerns included laborious paperwork, confrontations between prisoners and police (often resulting in injuries to officers and prisoners, as well as costly lawsuits), district court commissioner availability for first judicial appearances, and transportation to the detention center for those committed for incarceration.

Each agency processed its own arrestees using its own reporting formats, and fingerprinting and photographing methods. After an arrest was made, the patrol officer was off the street for many hours taking the prisoner through the arrest process. Individual arresting officers were responsible for completing all documents related to arrest and booking. The result was numerous errors and omissions on both arrest reports and fingerprint cards. Arresting officers would use ink to fingerprint each offender three times on federal, state, and local fingerprint cards. Many of these prints were difficult to classify or could not be classified at all due to the limitations of using ink and rolling the same finger over and over.6 Arrestee photographs were taken using very expensive 35mm or 70mm still photography. Processing time led to delays in the availability of photographs to other agencies to assist with possible suspect photo spreads or line-ups. All arrest reports documenting details (arrestee/suspect name, vital information, statement of charges, incident information) were handwritten three to four times per arrest, for each individual arrested. An officer with multiple arrests on one case could literally end up with 15 separate handwritten documents containing repetitive text and information.

In the next step, the arresting officer would have to wait for an available district court commissioner to take the arrestee for an initial appearance hearing, which is required by Maryland state law.7 At times, depending on commissioner availability, the arrestee would have to be taken to another location to accomplish this task, increasing the time the officer was off patrol. At the completion of the hearing, the arrestee would be released on personal recognizance or bond, or committed to the custody of the Department of Corrections. In the latter case, the arresting officer would have to transport the committed arrestee to the correctional facility in Upper Marlboro or keep the arrestee in custody at the police facility and wait for transportation assistance from the Prince George’s County Sheriff or Department of Corrections.

Given the number and variety of law enforcement agencies operating in Prince George’s County, ensuring timely pick-ups for transportation to the correctional facility was difficult. Often the committed arrestee had to wait several hours at the police facility, requiring an officer from the arresting agency to maintain custody, even after processing was complete. The average time from arrest to release or to commitment to the custody of the Department of Corrections ranged from three to six hours. This prevented the arresting officer from returning to patrol, often for the remainder of the shift, or from leaving at the end of the shift, requiring overtime pay.

Extended contact between arresting officers and arrestees led to numerous incidents leading to injury. The most serious occurred in 1978 when county police officers Albert Claggett IV and James Swart were killed by gunfire in a police processing area. These officers were shot and killed by an arrestee, who obtained and used one of the officers’ service revolvers while being processed.8 This was one of many incidents in which allegations were made of excessive force used against prisoners while being processed.

The Solution: Prince George’s County Regional Processing Initiative

In July 1996, with the support and approval by the Office of Public Safety and the County Executive, a committee was formed to evaluate prisoner processing procedures in the county and to develop a comprehensive approach to addressing the associated public safety issues. Representatives from the county’s public safety agencies, Office of Management and Budget, and Office of Central Services; the Fifth District Court for Maryland; various municipal law enforcement agencies; Maryland state law enforcement agencies; and other state agencies began a collaborative effort to develop a new method of processing prisoners.9 The sheer size and the distribution of population within the county led planners to the concept of regional processing. Once the Regional Processing Initiative is fully implemented, any law enforcement agency (federal, state, or local) placing a person under arrest in Prince George’s County will be able to process that prisoner at one of three strategically located processing sites, one each in the northern, central, and southern areas of the county. The three regional processing locations were slated to be phased in one by one.10

The Regional Processing Initiative has three specific goals:

  1. To decrease the time it takes police officers to process prisoners and return to their street duties. Cutting the arrest processing time from the average three to six hours and returning police officers to street patrol, “keeping them in the community,” is expected to increase the number of arrests and reduce crime. Jurisdictions around the country utilizing a central prisoner processing system experienced an increase in arrests of as much as 25 percent.11
  2. To limit the probability of confrontation during processing, thus reducing injuries to suspects and police. Using processing officers from the Department of Corrections is expected to reduce such confrontations. Excessive force complaints and resulting civil litigation are expected to decline as contact between arrestees and the arresting officers decreases.
  3. To automate the data collection involved in prisoner processing and eliminate the duplication and errors that occur. Automation is expected to improve the accuracy and availability of data to law enforcement officers, commissioners/courts, and corrections. The system will be fully integrated with those of police departments, district court commissioners, state records, and the Department of Corrections. Digital fingerprinting with links to state and local databases will ensure positive identification of offenders.12

A fully integrated public safety information system with regional processing sites had not been accomplished elsewhere in the State of Maryland at the time the initiative was conceived. The state had developed a centralized processing system, but it did not cover all the local reports and data requirements needed in Prince George’s County. There was no system in Maryland that could produce all the necessary reports associated with arrest or incorporate all federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. The Maryland Automated Arrest Booking system did utilize digital mug shot photography as well as automated fingerprint scanning capability.

The Prince George’s County Regional Processing Initiative includes plans for inkless fingerprint scanning with simultaneous transmission to the Maryland State Fingerprint Repository, the Prince George’s County Regional Area Fingerprint Identification System (RAFIS), and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Video images of arrestees will be electronically transmitted to the State of Maryland as well as stored locally. Thus, video images and arrest information will be accessible to any police agency regardless of where the arrestee was processed. Fingerprint classification and positive identification of the arrestee by state officials will be accomplished within minutes, if the individual was ever previously arrested in the State of Maryland or surrounding jurisdictions.

The data collected on the arrestee and offense will be entered at the booking center upon initial intake. Data screens for other agencies, such as the Department of Corrections, will be automatically populated as a result of this initial data entry.

Implementation

There are currently two permanent and one temporary regional processing centers operational. On October 1, 1996, Prince George’s County Police District I Station, located in Hyattsville, Maryland, began limited manual operations in order to facilitate training and the phasing in of the automated procedures. This site handles arrestees delivered by law enforcement agencies that operate in the northern part of Prince George’s County. Within the first 90 days, as the entire system was developed, Hyattsville became a complete 24-hour, seven-day, intake and processing facility. In February 1997, the county’s Automated Booking System (ABS) started live operations. In June 2001, integration of the local ABS and the state ABS at the Hyattsville location began.

In November 1997, the Regional Processing Initiative was expanded to a temporary site at the Prince George’s County Police District III Station in Palmer Park. This site handles arrestees delivered by law enforcement agencies operating in the central part of the county. This location is being used only until construction on a new facility at the Prince George’s County Department of Corrections, located in Upper Marlboro, is complete. Operations at the Correctional Center in Upper Marlboro are slated to begin in the spring of 2002. The Upper Marlboro facility will begin using the integrated county/state Automated Booking System as well.

New Prisoner Processing Procedures

The Prince George’s County Department of Corrections operates each regional processing location in accordance with state legislation, county council legislation, and county executive order.13 The arresting law enforcement agency arrives at the site and delivers the arrestee to correctional officers. Property is collected, fingerprints and photographs are taken, and initial information is recorded in an automated format. The law enforcement officer is able to leave the intake area after delivering the arrestee and go to a booking room to begin preparing reports (Statement of Charges, Statement of Probable Cause, Arrest Report). All information initially collected in the automated format can populate all of the necessary reports.

When the reports are completed, the law enforcement officer can return to street patrol. The correctional officer checks for criminal history and completes the arrestee process by taking the arrest documents and the prisoner to a district court commissioner for an initial appearance hearing.14 If the arrestee is committed to custody, the correctional officer arranges for transport by the Department of Corrections to the detention center. If the arrestee is not committed to custody, the correctional officer checks the criminal history again to ensure there are no other pending charges, returns all property, and releases the individual.

Sharing information is expected to increase the effectiveness of agencies as they access case information, criminal histories, and photographs through the integrated county/state Automated Booking System. At this time, September 2001, public safety agencies process arrests on the county’s ABS at two of the three regional processing sites. One regional processing site is integrated with the state ABS and is capable of sharing data. The data integration process continues as more law enforcement agencies become involved in the daily use of the system. Most of the law enforcement agencies operating in the county still maintain their independent records management and mug shot systems. As the technology is obtained and implemented all agencies will be able to link up with the integrated automation system and have access to all data collected during arrestee processing. All public safety agencies can access the integrated county/state ABS through Wide Area Network (WAN) connectivity.

Any law enforcement agency operating within Prince George’s County can use the ABS to generate necessary reports with the agency’s own letterhead/name and identification numbers. This program is also designed to interface with the court and state records systems to create a communications network for agencies to share vital prisoner information.

The total automation scheme will link all agencies within the county and throughout the state that need to share arrestee and case data information. Figure 4 is the proposed integration of information between all agencies.

As part of the continuous improvement of the Regional Processing Initiative, more effective and efficient procedures for case screening and early case review are being developed. Various categories of cases initiated by an arrest must be screened prior to trial by the State’s Attorney’s Office. Presently, a representative from the State’s Attorney’s Office goes to district police stations to interview arresting officers and in some cases accomplish this screening. Other case screenings occur by arresting officers traveling to Upper Marlboro (the county seat and location of the State’s Attorney’s Office). Both scenarios involve travel and an extraordinary amount of overtime for all agencies involved.

Screening of cases by the State’s Attorney’s Office can be accomplished using a case number to retrieve case information collected at the regional processing sites. Linking a personal computer at the State’s Attorney’s Office to the county/state Automated Booking System will enable this to occur. State’s Attorneys will interview the arresting officer concerning any pending case at the district police stations from the office in Upper Marlboro via a closed circuit television system. This will reduce officers’ travel time to Upper Marlboro and the resulting overtime costs and allow better utilization of limited staff by the State’s Attorney’s Office. This initiative is planned to begin in January 2002.

Staff Training

Training for regional processing includes use of local and state ABS systems as well as gaining Criminal Justice Information System/National Crime Information Center (CJIS/ NCIC) certification through the State of Maryland. All training developed for the booking system has been approved through the Maryland Police and Correctional Training Commission. There are currently 39 law enforcement agencies that utilize the regional processing sites. Approximately 1400 Prince George’s County police officers have received the ABS training and are utilizing the system daily. In addition, approximately 350 officers from municipal, state, and federal law enforcement agencies that operate in the county have been trained. A total of 6,800 training hours have been conducted to implement the use of the Automated Booking System.

Costs and Benefits

The benefits from automating data collection and interfacing with other law enforcement agencies extend far beyond cost savings. The citizens ultimately benefit from the reduction in criminal activity. Safe communities open the door for business opportunities, provide population growth, and enhance the overall quality of life for residents.

Law enforcement agencies that use the regional processing sites benefit significantly from this program. The efficient handling of each arrestee allows the patrol officer to return to the street and to the community. If an arrest is made, the patrol officer can complete necessary charging documents and return to the street in a little more than one hour. Automation of report writing allows the arresting agency to generate local reports needed to complete charging documents.

The new processing method has virtually eliminated conflict between suspects and police officers. At the regional processing locations, the arresting officer is separated from the arrestee upon entry into the processing area. Over 72,000 prisoners have been processed at regional processing locations since the implementation of the program. There have been no injuries to any police officer or complaints of use of force during processing initiated by an arrestee since the first site opened in October 1996.

There has been one correctional officer injured, resulting in extended loss from work, and approximately 10 incidents have occurred with minor injuries to the arrestee or the correctional officer involved. In the beginning, four suicides were attempted at the Hyattsville facility; these were discovered within seconds and thwarted. Research was conducted, and a plastic covering that prevents access to the inside of the cell bars was purchased and installed. In the three and a half years since these coverings were installed, there have been no suicide attempts.

The ability to conduct criminal history checks on site, in preparation for the initial appearance hearing, has enabled correctional officers to identify arrestees with open warrant charges. These charges can be satisfied and the warrant closed while the arrestee is still in custody. Since this phase of the program began in October 1998, over 19,700 arrestees with open warrants have been identified and processed.

The most significant achievement has been the Automated Booking System. One-time data entry and online communications have created an efficient, user-friendly system designed to accommodate the needs of all organizations. Automation allows the arrestees to be handled more efficiently. The information provided during the initial appearance hearing gives the district court commissioner more opportunities to release individuals on their own recognizance and reduce the number of intakes at the Department of Corrections. The district courts will benefit once the system is interfaced both countywide and at the state level. Information populated in the Automated Booking System will be transmitted to all systems and will eliminate the need to enter data repeatedly.

In June 2001, online operations began linking the state Automated Booking System and the county’s Automated Booking System at the pilot site in Hyattsville. District court commissioners at that location receive return information from the state that automatically populates data in the Criminal Judicial Information System. District court commissioners report the initial appearance hearing time has been reduced up to 20 minutes due to this online connection with the state.15

The municipal police agencies, which account for approximately 23 percent of total arrests16 in the county, were approached after one year of utilizing the automated system at the District I processing site and agreed to assist with staffing support. This “shared staffing” was cooperatively developed and began on January 2, 1998. The amount of support is based on the percentage of use by each municipal agency. This “shared staffing” concept has been implemented at each site and has been enhanced with the cooperation and support from state law enforcement agencies as well.

Costs and Cost Savings

The costs to develop this initiative are indicated in table 1. Combining the resources of the State of Maryland and Prince George’s County helped defray specific costs to the Department of Corrections.

Processing time has been reduced through increased efficiency. The staffing hours saved have been estimated at between 195,000 to 340,000.

Estimated cost savings are indicated in the table 2. The estimates utilize a Prince George’s County Police Department Corporal’s top pay (straight time; no overtime = $26.67 per hour) to show estimated police staff savings based on the 70,000 arrests processed at regional processing sites. If overtime rates were applied (as many of the previous arrests involved overtime), the estimates would be approximately 50 percent higher.

We anticipate the current processing time of approximately one hour will continue to be reduced as the training of law enforcement officers who utilize the systems at the district police stations is completed.

While a causal relationship cannot be proven, the regional processing initiative has coincided with a period of declining crime rates. A look at the Uniform Crime Report Statistics for Prince George’s County from 1996 through 2000 (figure 5) shows a reduction in crime since the first regional processing site was opened in October 1996.

A comparison of crimes per resident shows a continuous decline in the county during the same time period (figure 6).

Now that all three locations are in operation, it is expected the entire county will feel the benefits of returning law enforcement officers to patrol, keeping them active and visible in the community.

Obstacles

Several potential obstacles were considered during the program development, and addressing these directly has contributed to the success of the initiative. The complexity of operations and integration procedures required a well-defined, specific plan for implementation. Employing adequate personnel for developing and maintaining operations was very important. Coordinating the effort has taken time, cooperation from multiple agencies at all levels (federal, state, and local), and funding from the Prince George’s county government. Utilizing a user-friendly database system has allowed all law enforcement agencies operating in Prince George’s County to take part in this initiative.

Re-designing and building the processing locations required a great deal of planning. It is essential that facilities be designed to keep arresting officers separate from arrestees to reduce the potential for conflict. The ability for correctional officers to take custody of the arrestee at intake and allow the arresting officer to complete reports and return to street patrol is critical. This requires a separate report/booking room and a processing area operated by staff other than arresting officers.

Potential for Replication

The Regional Processing Initiative has been a successful approach to creating a more efficient and effective prisoner processing system in Prince George’s County, Maryland. The regional processing model could be a cost-effective option in any jurisdiction in which current procedures for booking arrestees are inefficient and keep police officers off the street for an inordinate amount of time. Increased police presence in the community aids in stopping criminal activity and making communities safer. There is a nationwide effort to put additional police officers on the street faster and decrease overtime costs associated with processing arrestees.

The Automated Booking System for law enforcement incident-based report writing is a Windows-based computer program and can be installed on any compatible system. In order to eliminate redundancy in data collection, the system should include generic forms and reports that encompass all law enforcement agencies’ needs within a specific geographical or legally defined area.

This program was designed to operate at three different processing sites within Prince George’s County, Maryland. Thus, time, development, and implementation are important issues to consider when replicating this model. Reforming the routine processing of prisoners will require many policy and procedure changes; support from multiple law enforcement and state agencies will be required to realize the potential benefits of the model.

About the Author

Col. Milton M. Crump has been in law enforcement and public safety for over 34 years. His public safety career began in 1966 as a patrol officer with the Prince George’s County, Maryland, Police Department. Rising to the rank of major, he initiated and developed the department’s first homicide investigative unit. He was detailed to the Prince George’s County, Maryland, Department of Corrections in 1987 and has been a permanent administrator—Deputy Director—since January 1988. Throughout his service with both departments he has received many awards and citations. Col. Crump has participated on the Governor’s Commission on Disruptive Youth and was appointed in 1995 by the Lieutenant Governor to serve on the Task Force on Sentencing and Intermediate Sanctions. Col. Crump holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland, where he majored in law enforcement administration, and obtained his master’s from Nova University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He is also a graduate of the FBI National Academy and has completed and instructed numerous specialty courses in the areas of police and investigative work, criminology, and corrections, as well as other topics relating to public safety and public administration.

 

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