Queens D.A. monitors cases like airlines track their flights

The Queens Arrest to Arraignment Monitor tracks a case's events along a daily timeline to keep it on track.

Database management software lets employees keep eye on 53,000 cases

Airport arrival and departure monitors show gates, destinations and on-time status. New York's Queens County shows the progress of its criminal justice cases the same way.

County district attorney Richard A. Brown asked the county's information services office to find a better way to keep track of 53,000 law enforcement cases each year.

The staff came up with a system called the Arrest to Arraignment Monitor, which uses Cach' database management software from InterSystems Corp. of Cambridge, Mass., on a Unix server.

The monitoring system works much like the arrival and departure screens at airports, said Robert Schlesinger, director of information services for the D.A.'s office.

'Instead of planes arriving, you see defendants arriving,' he said. The monitor shows at a glance the times of arrest, case numbers, charges and short narratives by the police department.

Cut arraignment time

Since implementing the Cach' system three years ago, the county has reduced the average time from arrest to arraignment by several hours, Schlesinger said. The main delays come in finding out about an arrest.

'The D.A. is kind of the gatekeeper in the criminal justice process,' he said. 'Time is of the essence, especially in domestic-violence cases where it's so emotionally charged. It may be in the best interest of the claimants to move quickly.' If there is a delay, victims might be tempted to change their minds about making charges 'due to fear or whatever,' Schlesinger said.

Getting a jump on a domestic-violence case also helps the D.A.'s office focus outreach and support services better, Schlesinger said.

Each of the 16 police precincts in Queens County connects to the Cach' database. The D.A.'s office has about 400 Cach' users, all of whom can sign on at the same time.

The client-server application's front end was designed with Microsoft Visual Basic. 'We didn't want to involve the Web,' Schlesinger said. 'We haven't found Web applications efficient in terms of data input, unless you're spending a lot on fancy Java applications. And as far as security goes, client-server works better for us.'

E-mail connection

The Cach' system also connects with the county's e-mail server. 'It has a push element to it,' Schlesinger said, sending e-mail to lawyers who handle cases. 'It helps us deal with a case that much quicker.'

Soon the county office will convert the monitoring system to a Red Hat Linux platform, which worked about 10 times faster during tests, he said.

The monitor has saved the county considerable money, Schlesinger said, although he could not assign a specific dollar amount.

"When I started here, we had 17 people doing data entry," he said. 'Now it's about four.'

About the Author

Trudy Walsh is a senior writer for GCN.

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