PORTLAND, Maine — The state court system took a step into the digital world this week when it electronically transmitted 41,000 existing arrest warrants into the system used by public safety officials around the state.
This will allow police officers to receive warrants more quickly and to access them from their cruisers, Chief Justice Leigh I. Saufley said Tuesday in a telephone interview. It also will alert them more quickly when a warrant has been withdrawn.
“This is part of an overall effort by the judiciary to improve public safety,” she said. “It ties in with various other efforts, including entry screening at courthouses. We want people to be as safe as possible in the state of Maine.”
The money to convert existing paper arrest warrants to digital documents and train clerks and public safety officials to deal with them in that form came from federal stimulus funds available from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the chief justice said.
The cost of creating the e-warrant system was about $200,000, according to Ted Glessner, administrator for the courts. About $90,000 was used by the Maine Department of Public Safety to convert its computer system to properly receive the warrants, he said Thursday in a telephone interview.
Saufley said the switch to e-warrants was the result of meetings among representatives from the state’s court system and stakeholders to look from multiple perspectives at ways to avoid and reduce violence.
“Police officers having quick and reliable access to information sometimes has been an issue,” she said.
An average of 100 warrants a day are issued from courthouses around the state, according to Mary Ann Lynch, spokeswoman for the court system.
For years, paper warrants were filed at police stations and regional dispatch centers where the information from the warrants then was entered into the statewide system. That could lead to some delays, according to Saufley.
Jim Ryan, executive director of the Penobscot Regional Communications Center, expressed concerns Wednesday about the elimination of warrants on paper. In the past, the ability to double-check names and addresses before officers received copies of the warrants caught errors, he said in a telephone interview.
“When our people received a warrant they would do a database check to see if there were any misspellings, or a middle initial was wrong or there was a mistake in a date of birth,” Ryan said. “We’d send them back to the court for corrections before they were issued.”
Ryan also said that because officers did not always have access to all the information that was on a warrant, they could call in for confirmation that the information they had was what was in the warrant. That, he said, was another check on the system.
“Change is always hard,” Ryan said. “I think, at first, it is going to be a challenge for our guys on the road, partly to do the volume.”
He said there are an average of 4,000 active warrants out at any one time just in Penobscot County.
The new system requires that a clerk at courthouses around the state digitize the warrants, according to Saufley. That means the warrants are not electronically delivered to officers on weekends and holidays when court clerks’ offices are closed.
Applications for warrants still must be made on paper, Saufley said.
Arrestees and their attorneys can obtain paper copies of the original paper warrants from court clerks, according to Glessner. Jail personnel also may provide paper copies of warrants to arrestees.