Allen Adkins would not be swayed. The Baltimore police officer looked over his fellow officers glued to computer screens in the bowels of the Central Booking and Intake Center, at his partner swigging chocolate milk and praising technology, and made the following pronouncement:
"You ain't getting me to change my mind.
"I'm very anti-computer. The world is too dependent on them. People don't have enough confidence in what's up here," Adkins said, tapping the side of his head.
As he spoke, narcotics Detective Michael Caperoon, who has been on the force 16 years, breezed by. A fan of the booking system, he'd been at Central Booking less than an hour. "I'm done already," he announced.
It's another night in the uneasy courtship between traditional policing and new technology.
Spend an evening at Central Booking and here is what you will find: Police officers who love it, police officers who hate it, a prisoner who urinates on the floor as he waits in a holding cell to see a court commissioner, drunks raging in the halls as they head for electronic fingerprinting, hard-working booking and correctional officers sighing when the hand-held computers go down, the occasional police rookie who can't handle the new system to save his life, and more.
Most of all, the experience is a window on change -- and the myriad responses it can generate in human beings.
"The people here are great," Robert L. Brown, a veteran city detective on the Violent Crimes Task Force, said as his partner typed a statement. "The turnkeys go out of their way to help you. The booking people are great. It's the computers. A guy's been on as long as I have, computers are a recent phenomenon."
And computers, like them or not, make Central Booking run. On Tuesday, 282 arrestees walked through the door, the highest number in the center's 11-month history, and 278 more followed Wednesday. But the volume created far fewer problems than the beleaguered staff expected: While one or two suspects had been waiting nearly 24 hours to see a commissioner, the average wait was more like nine hours. That's a marked improvement over the center's low point in April, when a system crash and a shortage of court commissioners caused some suspects to wait days.
Since then, the new center, which is supposed to streamline the processing of Baltimore's 70,000 arrests per year with the cooperation of criminal justice agencies and the help of automation, has had a much better but still bumpy ride. There's much disagreement over who and what is to blame for glitches. Some problems, of course, come simply from the fact that everything about this center is new.
Thursday afternoon, for example, the hand-held computers that keep track of prisoners like groceries on a checkout line had to be taken out of service for about an hour. One booking officer had to keep track of things manually during that period -- which caused some prisoners and police officers to wait longer.
"You start running into little bottlenecks, and each bottleneck affects the next bottleneck," said correctional Maj. Charles Beam, commander of the busy 4 p.m.-to-midnight shift. "If you don't catch it early, you have problems."
One solution to the problem of police movement through the center would be the installation of computers in the city's nine police districts, so officers could complete statements of charges without waiting at a booking window. That's been under discussion for some time, though logistical problems remain. Even Adkins, for all his distrust of computers, said that change would be "excellent."
For now, police officers at least part of the time have liaison officers stationed in the building to help officers with computers, provide advice on charging, and otherwise help the process go smoothly.
4 But the supervisors are a subject of hot debate.
Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier eventually wants to transfer them to the street. Some officers, prosecutors and booking officials say that without them, police who are not well-trained in the system will waste hours trying to wade through it.
On the men's room door next to the police computers is a friendly sign, telling officers to seek liaison sergeants if they need help. "You can't disturb us," it says. "Just walk in and inquire for help or just say hi."
Under that, someone apparently familiar with the debate has penned: "Yeah, right."
When one young Eastern District officer who has been in the center since about 2 p.m. tries to wrestle with the computer system, the derisive comment seems dead on. The rookie has 13 arrests to process, the liaison sergeant has gone off shift with no replacement, and nothing is working. Correctional officers try to help, but they have their own jobs: booking, handling rowdy prisoners, and answering the perpetually ringing phones.