Using software to identify statutes

     When Officer Christopher Smith looks up a statute for a "less written" traffic violation, he reaches for the touchscreen of his laptop computer, makes a few taps and receives the applicable statute.

     Smith and his fellow officers in the Jupiter Police Department, in Jupiter, Florida, are among the first in the nation to use intuitive new software to zero in on traffic statutes. Last autumn, the Jupiter PD tested the criminal statute identification software from Ten-8 Software Solutions, a company based in West Palm Beach, Florida.

Light-bulb moment

     Officers have long wrestled with the challenge of quickly determining exactly which charge applies to a specific crime, says John Landry, a retired law enforcement lieutenant, uniformed police officer and detective, and founder of Ten-8 Software Solutions.

     "It's in the news all the time: people are charged with the wrong crime and charges are dropped," Landry says. "I've known for years that there has to be a better solution for police officers than wading through thick law books."

     Landry, who is pursuing a Ph.D. in education from Capella University, came up with the idea of the statute identification software during a critical thinking exercise he learned through Capella. "I thought, how can we take the guesswork and confusion out of this critical process?" Landry recalls. "Almost all police officers now have laptops in their cars or in the stations; why not use them to quickly pinpoint the exact charge for any situation?"

     Landry and a partner, who is an active-duty narcotics agent, formed Ten-8 Software Solutions to develop and launch the Criminal Statute Identification Program (CSIP) and the Traffic Statute Identification Program (TSIP).

     Along with other departments in the area, the Jupiter PD served as a testing site for the software. The department prides itself on spearheading excellence and looks for ways to innovate, says Lt. Frank Hess of the Jupiter PD. Items from phone books to maps are already available on the laptops of the department's 108 officers; adding the TSIP and CSIP software was a logical progression.

     Additional test agencies include other Florida police departments, such as Port Richey, Titusville, West Palm Beach and Davenport.

How it works

     The software is controlled by mouse or touchscreen — no typing is required. The officer clicks "yes" or "no" to a series of questions that become increasingly specific until the appropriate charge is identified. The software delivers the same information as the criminal and traffic law books. The crucial difference, says Landry, is that the software is designed to be user-friendly and accessible. The software also assists by prompting the officer to do an investigation relevant to the crime.

     The TSIP and CSIP versions feature similar interfaces and the same intuitive approach, so it's easy for officers to quickly use and benefit from both, says Landry.

Advantages

     • Time savings

     Law enforcement professionals want to get the information they need — quickly and easily.

     Rookies and veteran officers are going to come across incidents they need to look up statutes for, says Smith. The software can save time compared to sifting through the statute books. "It's fast," says Hess, "[and] a real quick reference for officers."

     The software has a number of appropriate applications useful to a variety of officers. For example, an officer who's good on the street may not work regularly with all the statutes, says Lt. Mike McCabe of the Westfield (Massachusetts) Police Department. McCabe tested the CSIP and TSIP software during a recent trip to Florida. Another example would be a junior officer who pulls over a vehicle and may have to search for multiple offenses. The software can help both officers move forward dramatically faster than they could with the statute book, says McCabe.

     • Improved accuracy

     Accuracy can mean the difference between a felony or a misdemeanor, a successful prosecution or dropped charges, or one citation issued or many.

     With the TSIP and CSIP software, officers can easily do their homework — and prove it, says John Sullivan Jr., faculty chair of public safety at the Capella University in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and retired federal law enforcement.

     Improved accuracy from the start also streamlines and strengthens the entire process. The faster the reports are approved by supervisors at the station and the faster officers are back onto the streets, the better off the community, says McCabe.

     This is a tool that can help officers present the strongest possible case by tapping all applicable statutes, not merely the more prominent ones, says Sullivan. In addition, it enables improved efficiency in researching cases for prosecutors.

     • Simplicity

     The statute identification software is easy to learn and use, says Smith. "It matches the vernacular of law enforcement. In just a few minutes, you can get the basics down."

     At the Port Richey (Florida) Police Department, Chief Matt Brewi provides the following example: If an officer has questions concerning drug abuse prevention and control, that officer might have to wade through numerous pages of dense legal text. With the software solution, that same officer could make a few clicks on his or her computer in response to plain-language prompts. "Eminently simple," says Brewi.

     • Training and learning tool

     Brewi and Lt. Dave Brown, also of the Port Richey PD, first tried the software at a conference of police chiefs. "We looked at each other and the light bulbs went on at the same time," says Brewi, recognizing the product's usefulness, particularly for training. By special arrangement, the Port Richey PD received both TSIP and CSIP versions.

     Johnny Chanchang, a federal investigative employee in California, spoke on a personal level to the software's usefulness for criminal justice schools and students, trainees and rookie officers. "Rookies have to go back to the car and look things up," says Chanchang. "It can take a long time. It's easy to get confused. If you're by yourself, the pressures and frustrations add up."

     The software helps students and trainees know exactly what charge applies, says Chanchang. "You can get the answer in seconds without the embarrassment of asking too many questions."

     • Safety

     Officer safety may be improved as well, according to McCabe. Instead of sitting in their patrol cars looking down at a statute book, officers who pull over vehicles can use the software to simply answer prompts on a dashboard-level laptop — and keep an eye on the people in the car ahead. "It's easier to watch the situation," says McCabe.

An initial Florida release

     Ten-8 released the software to Florida on January 1. A subscription includes criminal law or traffic statute changes, ticket fine changes and all software updates or improvements. Florida police departments that have purchased the software include the Manalapan, Coconut Creek, Palm Beach Gardens, Melbourne Village, Haines City and University of South Florida police departments as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Tampa International Airport Police Department.

     Ten-8 plans to introduce customized versions for every state in the nation within the next five years.

     In addition, Thomson Wadsworth, a publisher of educational materials, has published an academic version of the CSIP on its Web site to accompany its criminal law textbook for college students.

     Editors Note: The Thomson Wadsworth CSIP can be found at www.wadsworth.com, under the course products catalog title "Criminal Law 9th Edition" by Joel Samaha.

     Michael Walsh, APR, ABC, is public relations manager with Capella University.

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