John might be up to no good in St. Charles on Saturday, racking up criminal citations, sought by police. By Sunday, he could be in Minnesota City as a vandal, by Monday he might be pulled over in Winona. Lucky for John, the Winona Police may not know that he is wanted in St. Charles and Minnesota City, and might not know who they are dealing with.
Eying $400,000 in technology upgrades, Winona County leaders are considering a change in the way law enforcement agencies can share data. From dispatch to officers on the street, down to prosecutors and defense attorneys at the courthouse, the new computer software would allow criminal data to be entered once and be accessible to myriad agencies involved in law enforcement.
Winona County leaders are also considering footing the entire bill, nearly $400,000, for the project, which would allow all city law enforcement agencies in the county to plug in. If the county follows the initial plan presented Tuesday, the cities would simply pledge employee support and commit to the new system for a number of years.
County Administer Duane Hebert said if the county asked all of the cities and law enforcement agencies to put up the money for their share, the initiative might take years to complete. He suggested the county use "flood money," funds that were reimbursed for flood repair work following the 2007 floods, to fund the program.
Winona County Attorney Karin Sonneman said law enforcement agencies in the county have been talking about the need for better data sharing for decades. She added that the new system could help the county comply with a Supreme Court mandate that electronic criminal citations be employed by 2015.
Under the current system, criminal data is manually entered into multiple systems using processes that span dozens of steps. Under the new system, the data would be entered into a computerized "master file," a complaint would be prepared, and the documentation would be accessible to multiple departments and agencies. Law enforcement officials told the board that the change would help eliminate data errors stemming from such frequent needs for manual entry, make data accessible more quickly, and would reduce the amount of paper used in the criminal justice system.
Hebert is expected to approach cities in the county to request a resolution of support for the new program. The County Board is expected to vote on the project in the coming weeks.