Soon, a law enforcement officer could stop a suspicious car in Crow Wing County and receive information on the vehicle, see a mug shot of the registered owner and view a criminal history of the driver all by simply touching a computer screen.
If a plan by area law enforcement is adopted, a unified record-keeping system and mobile computers could become greater tools for officers on patrol whether in Emily or Baxter. The goal is to easily share information between departments via a database maintained by Crow Wing County. But it has a hefty price tag of perhaps $430,000 every year for three years.
Before the county board Tuesday, Crow Wing County Sheriff Eric Klang said benefits include an increased ability to solve crime by breaking down walls between departments.
"I would believe the public assumes we are already doing this -- but we are not," Klang said.
Commissioner Terry Sluss said it was the right way to go and the fact that so many different entities were willing to be partners was big news.
"The bottom line is it's in the best interest of the public," Sluss said.
Commissioner Dewey Tautges said he thinks there would be broad public support. Commissioner Ed Larsen also supported the idea. An aggressive schedule could have the project up and running in the spring.
Klang said just eliminating the duplication of report writing, and thus substantially reducing the potential for data entry errors, could reduce an officer's time writing field reports by 10 percent. Klang said that puts officers back out on the street faster. Klang estimated officers spend 20 to 40 percent of their time writing field reports.
Crow Wing County Sheriff Eric Klang said the next step is to work with County Auditor Roy Luukkonen and County Administrator Peter Helofsky Jr. and look at potential funding sources for a unified data system for area law enforcement, potentially identifying grants that could lower the cost.
Officers arriving on duty could easily access activity logs in their areas so they knew exactly what had happened while they were not working a shift. Restraining orders would be listed in real time. Judges also could access the system for complete criminal history data. Klang said area ambulances and fire departments could be included.
A driver's license could be swiped like a credit card on a mobile computer, automatically filling in data fields about the individual. A speeding ticket could be printed right in the squad car. Dispatchers would have the ability to see each individual squad car on a map, incorporate global positioning system information and give officers an ability to see the topography of a scene before they arrive -- to help jump start searches for missing children for example.
The information system would be able to generate thousands of reports such as mapping crimes. Field officers would have access to everything from the penal code to accident investigation diagrams from a computer screen that is as easy to operate as an Internet Web page.
Brainerd Police Chief John Bolduc, Baxter Police Chief Jim Exsted and County Attorney Don Ryan attended the board meeting. The cities of Baxter, Brainerd, Breezy Point, Nisswa, Pequot Lakes, Deerwood and Crow Wing Township submitted signed copies of support and willingness to help pay for the project.
Klang said the idea was supported by the Police Chiefs Association and a consultant was hired to look at record management system needs. The consultant was hired using $6,000 from the county attorney's forfeiture funds as well as contributions from Brainerd and Baxter.
Bolduc said he and Fred Underhill, Brainerd fire chief, identified the proposal as a priority. Baxter and Crosby are looking at options for record management now. Exsted said if other jurisdictions want to be included in the future, such as adjoining counties, it would be as easy as flipping a switch.
The data system was developed by a Minnesota police officer.
After the county session, Klang said the system allows a more proactive style of law enforcement.
"We are going to be more effective."
RENEE RICHARDSON can be reached at email@example.com or 855-5852.
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