Fixes offered for booking center delays

Criminal justice leaders weigh plans to reduce arrests, repair computers

April 28, 2005|By Ryan Davis | Ryan Davis,SUN STAFF

Leaders of the city's criminal justice system weighed several proposals yesterday to end gridlock at Central Booking and Intake Center, including one plan that would allow police to arrest fewer suspects on minor charges.

Other tentative plans include fixing outdated technology at the state-run facility, adding a supervisor to oversee the booking process and revamping the process so that warrant checks on suspects can be completed sooner, according to several people who attended the closed-door meeting.

"People brought some creative solutions to the table," said Natalie Finegar, the chief attorney at Central Booking for the public defender's office. "These solutions are going to take a little while to implement, so I don't think we have immediate relief in sight."

The state officials who run Central Booking are under a temporary court order to release all suspects who don't receive a court hearing within a day of being arrested. Despite a state law requiring that suspects be freed or see a court commissioner within 24 hours of arrest, many suspects had recently waited much longer, some for as long as four days.

People arrested in the city are taken to the facility, where prosecutors decide whether to press charges, suspects get defense attorneys, and judges and court commissioners decide whom to release. Opened in 1995, the building and the process it houses were to be the $56 million answer to gridlock.

The court order resulted in the release of 22 suspects Tuesday and another was scheduled for release yesterday, corrections officials said. But all sides have agreed that the court order - which will last at least until another court hearing May 6 - is a temporary fix.

The proposals for longer-term solutions emerged from a summit yesterday that included state corrections Secretary Mary Ann Saar, prosecutors, police and judges.

Commissioner William J. Smith and Finegar said the order issued Monday by city Circuit Judge John M. Glynn added urgency to the meeting. Glynn's order was issued at the behest of public defenders, who said the problems had grown worse.

Previous attempts to make Central Booking more efficient have resulted in finger-pointing among police, prosecutors, corrections officials and others.

"When the judge got involved, it raised everybody's awareness," said Smith, of the Division of Pretrial Detention and Services.

During the meeting, police said they could reduce the number of people arrested on minor charges if they gained access to the state's fingerprint database. Reducing arrests would reduce the flow into the facility, which was built to handle about 60,000 bookings a year but had more than 100,000 last year.

Now, people who could receive citations for minor offenses such as loitering and possessing an open container of alcohol are arrested if they don't have identification. Police said that if they aren't sure of an offender's identity, they can't issue a citation.

With access to the state fingerprint identification system, police said, they could take suspects to the district station, verify their identity and issue citations.

Smith said the state will pay for repairs to the arrest booking computer system at Central Booking. He also said the state will soon have a technology specialist working around the clock to fix computer crashes. Repair workers are not on duty late at night, Smith said.

He also said the state has added an additional supervisor to monitor the booking process, specifically for suspects who are nearing the 24-hour deadline.

Police said they will increase the role of the police liaison office at Central Booking, and all parties discussed fingerprinting and confirming the identify of suspects earlier in the process.

Once suspects are identified, police can begin running warrant checks. Public defenders say that suspects are sometimes stuck at Central Booking - even though prosecutors have decided not to charge them - because they are waiting for warrant checks to be completed.

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