Police Work and Paper

Posted 2002-09-10 Print this article Print

A year after Sept. 11, law enforcement far too often finds itself left alone on the front line of defense.


Police Work and Paper Work

The 13th Precinct is typical of most station houses around the city. Located just south of midtown Manhattan, it has a staleness borne of weak ventilation and the sweat of a tough, 24-hour-a-day operation. Civilian and sworn members work at faux-wood desks, which stand on an industrial-grade, yellow-speckled linoleum floor. The office is littered with faded brown IBM Selectric typewriters.

When officers respond to a call, they're required to write the details of the incident on a paper complaint form—commonly known as a "61." If they make an arrest, the officers bring the suspect and the complaint form into the station house, where the form is first approved by a desk sergeant and then dropped off with a precinct administrator to input into the department's Online Complaint System (OLCS), since the 13th does not yet have Omniform installed on its PCs.

Because of limited resources and normal paper backlogs, the data transfer could take up to a day-and-a-half. If prisoners are released and arrested again within that span, there's every chance they'll be released again.

Once the prisoner is fingerprinted and put in a cell, the officer fills out a booking form by hand, gets that approved by the sergeant, and then enters the data off the sheet into an Online Booking System (OLBS).

Next, the arresting officers must notify the district attorney's office that they have a suspect ready to be entered into the criminal justice system. They do this by first typing in the complaint and booking information into the Local Arrest Processing System on a terminal in the booking area and then faxing the paper complaint and booking forms over to the district attorney. The officers then have to wait for word from that office that attorneys are ready to have the prisoner transported to central booking, which completes the arrest process.

Officers find the processing of information can tie up the bulk of their tours. And that's when everything is working right.

But even the simplest technology is not reliable. In a busy precinct, where several arrests are likely to be made during a shift, a broken fax machine can take three or four officers out of action, reducing the street force in a precinct detachment of 10 or 12 officers by a third on any given shift.


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