Increasing Law Enforcement Fire Power With Document Imaging Software
Intelligent Document Processing helps the Massachusetts Firearms Records Bureau to index, store and retrieve more than 700,000 firearm registration forms. Could the local sheriff's office be your next customer?
"If you can't locate the record of a firearm registration, it's like filing off a gun's serial numbers — at least from the criminal's perspective," says Jim Walckner, president of Intelligent Document Processing (IDP), of Sudbury, MA. "From a bureaucratic standpoint, it's like trying to fight a war with wet gunpowder — not much bang for the bucks the public spends on gun registration."
That was precisely the problem at the Massachusetts Firearms Records Bureau (MFRB) before IDP implemented its information storage and retrieval solution. IDP, founded in 1993, has 57 employees and more than 150 clients. IDP specializes in forms-processing and automated data-entry solutions.
More Than 700,000 Records To Scan And Index
At the MFRB, records of firearms registration forms were kept on cards in random order. More than 700,000 cards were stored randomly in cardboard boxes and stacked in a back room. Searching for and retrieving a form first meant locating it. This process took an average of 75 days and cost $5,600-per-search.
Before IDP could automate the MFRB record retrieval process, it had to convert the backfile. This involved scanning and indexing some 700,000+ records, beginning in June of 1997. IDP's service bureau was the answer to the problem. The company worked with the MFRB to create a customized scanning and indexing system.
The image conversion process took five months to complete. IDP installed INFOtrieve storage and retrieval software. The software provides access to image, COLD and ICR-derived data using a common GUI (graphical user interface). INFOtrieve can be used to store images, COLD and ASCII data on WORM or CD technology using a folder or indexing system with simple point-and-click steps. The registration forms covered 12 years of gun registration history. During the backfile conversion process, IDP conducted firearms registration searches on demand for police officers and detectives.
Indexing was key to the system's success. "A sloppy indexing system means slow access times, lost documents, and poor customer response cycles," says Walckner. "Indexing is clearly one of the most highly leveraged functions in document management. From an application standpoint, this is particularly relevant to COLD and COLD/imaging hybrid systems, where the index is the keystone of the system. In fact, the development of an effective, reliable registration-indexing system constituted a re-engineering of the entire MFRB work process."
Tracing Gun Ownership
Interestingly enough, each electronic search produces an average of ten "hits" because firearms often carry a history of various owners, or because one registrant may own several guns. The cost of achieving these results manually could have exceeded $1,750,000 over a five-month period, and would not have produced the same results as the electronic search method. After IDP installed its record-keeping solution, MFRB's retrieval time of registration forms was cut down to a matter of seconds at a cost of nine cents-per-trace.
Prior to the implementation of the electronic firearms record-keeping system, Massachusetts gave attention only to the highest priority searches. The 75-day turnaround time jeopardized personal safety. When an officer was summoned to handle a domestic dispute, there was no way of knowing whether or not a gun was on the premises. There was no quick way to assess the situation in advance. Now, an officer can query the system by voice or by data modem, search the MFRB database by name or address, and in seconds find out if someone at the location of the domestic dispute is armed.
Police officers aren't the only ones for whom the new system offers additional protection. The same procedure can work for the benefit of the victims of domestic abuse. There used to be no way for a judge to check if the subject of a restraining order in a domestic violence incident owned a gun. Now, a judge can instantly check during the court proceeding to see if that subject possesses a gun, then order him to turn it in.
"There's no telling how many lives — those of potential victims and police — the system will save," notes Berman. Indeed, the Criminal History Systems Board of Massachusetts characterized it as "the finest investigative tool currently available to law enforcement personnel in the Commonwealth." IDP's application solution for MFRB earned the Vision Award presented by Kinetic Information at the Process Innovation Awards.
Adding ICR-Friendly Forms And Data Extraction
Now that the records are all imaged and manually indexed, IDP is in the process of designing ICR-friendly forms. This will allow for automatic indexing and extraction of all imaged data into ASCII files using MTI OCR for Forms product. The MFRB receives around 100 firearm inquiries per week from various agencies charged with the responsibility of carrying out criminal investigations.
Additionally, an average of 1000 new sales is recorded weekly. The estimated manual labor savings for 15 inquiries per week alone equates to a staggering annual savings of $80,162,500. There are in excess of 300 law enforcement and criminal justice agencies in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts that will eventually benefit from the system. The $80 million estimate is conservative.
The MFRB's automated gun registration system continues to reengineer the way the bureau functions. Guns can be traced using partial serial numbers based upon wildcard searches. Inquiries from the press and firearms studies groups can be processed according to who is purchasing guns by make, type and caliber. Probation violations can be discovered. Bulk purchases of specific weapon types can be identified and traced to suspected gang activity. Outstanding warrants can be matched with firearms registration information, which can lead to the apprehension of criminals on the run. All of this is working to contain crime and increase the arrest and conviction rate in Massachusetts.
Now that the information is electronic, backup digital copies of registration forms prohibit gun registrations from being lost, destroyed or stolen, a hazard of the old random card storage system. Moreover, it is very likely that many criminal cases that otherwise would have been left open due to the prohibitive cost of manual searches will now be solved.
Solution Impacts Other Law Enforcement Agencies
The Massachusetts Firearms Record Bureau automated document management initiative is one of the the first of its kind in the country. The system is presently being used and evaluated by the Massachusetts Police Chiefs Association and County Sheriffs Departments in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. It's also used by the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms at the Federal level. It lays the technological foundation for the analysis of demographic data on gun purchasers and future weapons crackdown programs. "This system is now having a significant impact on how the entire law enforcement community traces firearms," says William E. Pickett, Jr., director of the Massachusetts Firearms Records Bureau.