Agency Award'Oakland County, Mich. | Law & video

2007 GCN Award: Michigan county gets a lot of mileage from its video arraignment system

Fiber network planted the seed for OakVideo

Oakland County's OakVideo project would have been impossible without OakNet, a fiber-optic network that connects the Michigan county's local-area network to all cities, villages and townships within its jurisdiction.

OakNet consists of more than 400 miles of fiber-optic cable and connects more than 180 facilities, transmitting data, video, police dispatching and Global Positioning System information countywide.

The courtrooms use Polycom's VS 4000 videoconferencing unit and a low-end server with a custom service enabling it to act as a network listener. The listener receives User Datagram Protocol packets via the IP network, and it initiates RS232 commands to VS 4000 units to make calls and control cameras and the Polycom ViewStation codec and matrix audio-video switchers. The server also invokes library commands that activate the digital-capture card in the server. The courtroom's existing desktop PCs are equipped with digital signature pads and printers. Judges can review case documents during the arraignment, sign documents and add documents to case files in written or digital format.

Holding cells are outfitted with custom cabinets that contain the Polycom ViewStation H323, an infrared controllable light system, matrix switcher, serial infrared emitter and small PC designed with full remote control.

Law enforcement personnel, prosecutors and corrections staff use desktop PCs equipped with Polycom ViaVideo cameras. The systems use a Web-based document system to transfer case documents to central case files with a queuing system.

' Trudy Walsh

WHAT: OakVideo project in Oakland County, Mich.

Mission: By using videconferencing technology, Oakland County saves time and money on arraignments.

Challenge: The county's judicial-arraignment process was cumbersome, paper-
intensive, time-consuming and costly. It took at least a day to issue a warrant, and making an arrest required 10 forms. Transporting prisoners was a dangerous task that required extra security guards.

Solution: The county had installed a fiber-optic network, called OakNet, in the late 1990s. In 2001, county officials began looking for a videoconferencing
system that would enable communications between courts and police. The county began deployment of Polycom equipment in November 2004. By early 2006, the system was deployed countywide.

Impact: The county saves $4.2 million annually from the reduction in defendant transportation and prisoner housing costs. The annual savings from streamlining the warrant process alone is about $1.5 million. Total savings as of Aug. 31, including savings on arraignments and warrants, is more than $7.2 million.

Cost: The total budget for the project is $6.8 million, of which $5.8 million has thus far been spent.

TAPPING RESOURCES: Bob Daddow's team built the OakVideo system on top of an existing fiber-optic network.

Fabrizio Constantini/WPN

HOLDING COURT: Bob Daddow, Bob Pence and Charlie Covetz took a detailed approach.

Zaid Hamid

On TV cop shows, judicial arraignments ' the process whereby the accused is brought before the court to plead guilty or not guilty ' take about five minutes. In Michigan's Oakland County, the judicial arraignment process took a day if not longer.

For the complete list of the 2007 GCN Award winners, click here

Transporting an inmate from a holding cell to court required a complicated arrangement of handcuffs, paperwork and police officers working overtime on security details.
'And you had to fax information back and forth, or worse, hand-carry things,' said Bob Daddow, deputy county executive for special projects. A single arrest required filling out 10 forms.

Detectives had to do a lot of scurrying around, too, Daddow said. 'They would make their case, realize they needed to issue a warrant, put the paperwork together, hie over to Pontiac, [the county seat], and sit in a queue until the prosecutor was available.'

The entire litany of tasks involved in getting a warrant took a detective away from the office for a whole day, Daddow said. And the county issues about 12,000 warrants each year.

But Oakland County had a secret weapon, a fiber-optic network called OakNet that was built in the late 1990s and connects the county's courts, police and fire departments over 480 miles of fiber, providing gigabit speed for voice, data and video.

'Even back then, we recognized that videoconferencing would someday become viable,' Daddow said.
In 2001, county officials began looking into videoconferencing as a way to streamline the arraignment process and other logjams in the judicial system.
'We looked at some video systems,' Daddow said. The companies 'wanted to sell us glitzy video and didn't want to talk about the paper part of the process.'
About four months into a contract with a videoconferencing company, Daddow and
his staff realized it wasn't working out and terminated the contract. 'The market didn't have the vision to achieve what we wanted to do here.'

Working completely in-house with a small staff ' project manager Bob Pence, systems administrator Charlie Covetz and two programmers ' Daddow developed plans for an enterprise videoconferencing system. Eventually, the group added three technicians and a trainer to its staff.

The group worked on every detail of the project, from designing the holding cell to putting forms and records into a Web-based format.

The resulting system, the OakVideo judicial-arraignment system, lets law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, community corrections and the courts save and secure case records on a centralized server. Using Polycom videoconferencing equipment, OakVideo uses a Web-based codec control and digital document transfer feature that tracks cases through the system, from arrest through arraignment and beyond.

Now, detectives and prosecutors can use OakVideo to meet through videconferencing. 'If the prosecutor is available, the detective can push a button, and bingo, videoconferencing,' Daddow said. The detective doesn't have to wait in the prosecutor's office or drive anywhere. 'We've taken the travel and queue time out of the process.'

'We had to examine all the little things most people wouldn't think about,' Pence said. For example, the holding cells had to be sturdy enough to withstand potentially violent offenders and sealed tightly enough that blood-borne pathogens, a concern with inmate populations, couldn't leak out.

But sealing the holding cells so tightly created a sweat box, Daddow said. The excess heat damaged the equipment, so they had to install cooling systems in each videoconferencing cabinet.

Wiring some of the older courthouses was difficult, Pence said. One was built in the late 1880s. 'It's all cast concrete. But it gave us a lot of opportunities to be creative.'

County officials keep finding new uses for OakVideo, now deployed countywide for more than a year.

For example, in operating under the influence of liquor cases, a lab technician often has to come to court to testify about a person's blood alchohol level. Now the technician can use OakVideo and save a day in court.

Looking ahead

A future application for OakVideo is telemedicine.

'If you've been in a jail cell for a long period of time and you want to go out and see the blue skies for a while, you can go down to the clinic. If you complain long enough, they'll take you to the emergency room, and doctors will keep you overnight and run a battery of tests,' Daddow said. 'They need two security guards working overtime to watch them. And all of this is at the taxpayers' expense.' The county was spending $1.5 million on the security guards alone for these hospital visits.

With OakVideo, emergency room doctors could do a remote examination. By eliminating the chance to get outside for a trip away from jail, telemedicine 'would make it less likely that those prisoners will have tummy aches,' Daddow said.

And remember those scenes in prison movies when the sweetheart goes to visit the prisoner and smuggles in a nail file in a birthday cake, or the thriving drug business Ray Liotta ran from prison in 'Goodfellas'?

Thanks to OakVideo, those scenes will be relegated strictly to the movies. Friends and family can videoconference with inmates through OakVideo. 'Now we don't have to worry about contraband being brought into the prison,' Pence said.


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