Paperless Public Safety Agencies

Part of the “Reliable Innovation” in Spillman is helping agencies use every feature possible in their system. One such potentially cost-cutting feature of the Spillman system is that it supports paperless agencies with easy-to-access electronic records that can be printed out when necessary. With public safety agencies traditionally relying on paper for everything from arrest to chain of custody reports, they might have some apprehension when considering going paperless. With this in mind, it’s not surprising that according to a recent article in The Economist, the United States is still the seventh largest paper-consuming country regardless of the benefits of going paperless: cleaning up clutter, removing the burden of storage, easy access to digital records, and the ability to easily share records.

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In exploring this topic, we spoke to Commander Neil Sexton of Lyons Police Department (LPD), which has been paperless since 2008, from field officers to the District Attorney’s office.

He explained when they first began using their Spillman system in 2007, they printed records of everything. But after they performed an agency-wide evaluation of resources, Commander Sexton noticed they were using personnel hours to store, sort, and then destroy those records, wasting a large amount of paper on a yearly basis.

“We estimated that 70% of reports we were printing could be done in Spillman without the need for paper. We evaluated the costs for destruction of the paper as well as printing costs. We also wanted to try and be as environmentally sound as we could.”

Commander Sexton reports that they have not had many transition issues other than training to use new systems—not that there weren’t questions.

Many agencies may be nervous about security as, traditionally, security on paper documents has been controlled by either restricting access to physical storage locations or by signing a chain-of-custody report. The concept of ownership has consisted of having the physical document in your hands. With a good records management system, however, security is significantly increased through permissions and system logs.

“There was a big concern that if we did not sign the reports, how could the officer know that report was his. This has basically been found to be a non-issue for the court with locking out the report to ‘read only’ and the availability of SYLOG to show the report was not modified,” said Sexton.

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To ensure security, LPD enabled System Logs, the ability for agencies to monitor and log the use of their software, and “read-only” documents, documents that can be read but not altered in any way. To complete their paperless transition, they also set up a Spillman console and gave permissions for the court, eliminating the need to print prosecution documents.

Having been through the process, Commander Sexton advises patience to any agencies looking to go paperless and to let the software do the work of data collection.  He also suggests to agencies allow plenty of time for their personnel to understand the software and then evaluate the processes.

“Look at the reports that you print – actually create a list over a week,” said Sexton. “Then go back and review if there is a way that [you] can avoid printing things [such as] emailing reports to victims, emailing UCR stats to the state, not printing reports that are more informational, etc].”

We want to thank Commander Sexton from the Lyons Police Department for his time and help.