Technology boosts crime fighting BY T.J. Becker
A new online database has introduced electronic data sharing among several Georgia counties and the state, superior and juvenile courts. Developed by researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, the database will allow the courts to pool information, including criminal activity, and better track offenders across the state.
Previously, counties have not been able to share data electronically. Calling around was the only way for officials to know whether a suspect was under warrant for arrest in another county or had a history of violence.
“Even if you pick up the phone, there’s no way to really know the extent of the [offender’s] problems,” says Judge Hilton Fuller, a DeKalb County Superior Court judge and chairman of the Georgia Courts Automation Commission, which is funding the database project. “State-collected data, by the nature of the current collection process, is often quite stale and always limited.”
Although the Georgia Crime Information Center (GCIC) maintains an electronic database, its information is limited to sentencing and depositions. In contrast, the new database provides a wealth of case-related information and is easily accessible.
Designed by Senior Research Scientist Lisa Sills and her team in the Information Technology and Telecommunication Lab at the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI), the database features a TCP/IP network that account holders, such as judges and clerks, can use anywhere they have Internet access. It is divided into two sections – juvenile court and state/superior courts – and it contains information regarding trials, verdicts or outcomes, and sentencing.
Entries for individuals list a complete record of charges as well as date of birth, gender and any known alias. The juvenile court section lists dates spent with foster parents and names of “interested persons,” such as parents, guardians or attorneys. Gang-related information, which is becoming increasingly more important as gang activity spreads, also is tracked.
When the initial users have access to the database, researchers expect the system to be invaluable to decision-makers. For example, it can be used in a “confidence level” test, in which a judge questions a defendant and uses the stored data to determine whether the defendant is answering truthfully. “The more information we have, the better decisions we can make,” Fuller says.
In addition to being useful in the juvenile court system, the database provides valuable background information in the state and superior courts. For example, data for civil suits reveals the names of past litigants, making it easy to see if a particular individual is an habitual litigator.
The technology also will improve public access to legal documents. For example, certain forms for probate court are being automated, beginning with descendent estate management.
Citizens will be able to access the forms on the Internet and fill them out in the convenience of their homes. Information will flow back to GCIC with the standardized format of the GTRI database, enabling courts to deliver information faster and more accurately Eleven counties are scheduled to go online with the new system this month, and others will be added later. “Our goal is to have the whole state, but we’re targeting the counties with the greatest number of filings,” says Sills, noting that 30 counties generate about 90 percent of filings in Georgia. “If we can get those counties online, almost all criminal and civil activity will be tracked.”