High-tech booking of suspects set to begin Hand-held scanners, coded wristbands to streamline processing

November 23, 1995|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,SUN STAFF

State prison officials yesterday proudly tried out the technology that drives the new Central Booking and Intake Center, showing how they plan to process suspects as efficiently as bar-coded groceries through the checkout line.

Correctional officers wielded hand-held scanners, pointing them at coded wristbands and at computer screens to show how a prisoner can be tracked from the moment he sets foot in the brand-new receiving area.

The first suspects are to be booked at the center after 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, when the $54 million state-run building at Madison Street and the Fallsway officially opens. Only police officers from the Northern and Northeastern districts will bring suspects there; use by the other districts will be phased in over several months.

Assistant Warden Michael H. Waudby, once a desk sergeant and booking manager for the Baltimore Police Department, begged forgiveness for his enthusiasm about the gadgetry. He remembers when officers used pencil and paper to accomplish the same thing.

"If you had 50 charges, you wrote 50 arrest reports," he said. "It would be Friday night, it would be busy, and it would take forever."

By contrast, the system Mr. Waudby exhibited yesterday was practically paperless. Correctional officers will type the intake report on the computer; police will add their statements of probable cause; and court commissioners will generate charging documents, all by pulling up a computer file.

In case of system failure, a detainee can be accompanied by a diskette with all his data on file. The information will stay in a database, allowing officials to retrieve it for quick individual reference and for new statistical uses.

Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend arrived for "booking" and a quick tour at about noon, declaring that the technology "will make it much easier for the police to work and the public safety system to work here in Baltimore City." Bishop L. Robinson, secretary of public safety and correctional services, called the // system unique in the country.

Mrs. Townsend looked over a room where fingerprints are taken electronically and mug shots digitized for computer storage, so that officers looking for leads on crimes in other jurisdictions can pull up pictures from afar.

In a first-floor room filled with computers, fingerprint specialists checked for matches on prints that arrived electronically moments before.

Under the current system, fingerprints are taken by police and mailed to the state records center in Pikesville, where they are matched and the results sent back to the police. That can take from days to weeks. By that time, the suspect often has been released from jail and can't be found.

Now, officials hope, they can do the same matching of fingerprints with open cases -- helping to solve old crimes -- in as little as 30 minutes, while the suspect is still in the building.

Upstairs, suspects can appear at their bail review hearing before a district judge by video hookup to district courtrooms, something officials say will save the state the cost and risk of transporting prisoners across town.

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