The Clermont County Sheriff’s Department is testing what could be the first step in a significant streamlining of the criminal justice system.
The Mobilisa m2500 Sentry scanner is a handheld unit that gives law enforcement officials the ability to instantly check on the background of any individuals they choose, determining quickly if they have outstanding warrants or maybe a history of violence or are sexual offenders.
“Basically, this is a hand-held scanner,” said Deputy Duyane Ernst. “We have a couple of ways to use it. We can swipe the license, scan the barcode or search manually by name or social security number. If we scan the driver’s license, it basically tells us the license number and tells us if you have any warrants. It can also tell us if the license is expired or not.”
Clermont County is giving the units a trial run and are the only law enforcement agency in the country to have access to the devices. Said Sheriff Tim Rodenberg, that privilege comes from knowing the president of the company that created the devices, John Paxton Sr.
"This can scan driver's licenses, state I.D. cards and military I.D. cards," said Deputy Schockman. "There is a 48-hour lag when they enter local warrants. Federal warrants doesn't have much of a lag because it's already on the internet. When we plug it in at night, it downloads all of that information, all of those warrants. It can tell us all of the newest federal warrants, and they usually have photographs with that too. The viewer can pull up that photo so we can compare it."
The scanners work by consulting an internal database of warrants that it obtains through daily downloads and uploads of information to a satellite service. Therefore, if the FBI places a warrant on someone on Tuesday, the daily update Tuesday night will alert the scanner to that warrant which would then be recognized on Wednesday.
"If someone enters something today, it only takes about three minutes to download and upload that information," said Deputy Ernst. "We could go over and download and upload right now. We could call in and have a name ran, but realistically, we're not going to call in with everyone. This is quick and we eliminate the time of making a dispatcher do it, so this actually frees up one person."
Deputy Schockman said that the scanner can check warrants from the municipal level on up to the federal level, and can check most forms of identification. If there is a problem with the unit, it comes from lag time in both posting and removing warrants from the system.
"Sometimes, with the updates, when warrants have been taken out of the system, sometimes they'll still be in there," said Deputy Walker.
However, a quick telephone check can eliminate an unnecessary arrest or citation. The system also allows the deputies to view and take pictures of suspects, or evidence or a suspicious looking vehicle.
"You can also take photos with this," said Deputy Ernst. "If I have an incident with someone, I can take an image of them, or if I'm walking up on a car and want a picture of the license plate or of the car, I can. You can also enter any information with it if you feel it's necessary. Here, sometimes we confiscate weapons. We don't allow knives into the courthouse. People can either take them back to their cars or we'll take it and have it destroyed. If they choose to have us destroy it, we take pictures of all the knives we confiscate."
That, said Deputy Schockman, can help create a safer environment for officers, specifically officers on road duty.
"The road patrol using this improves their safety," said Deputy Schockman. "Instead of walking back and forth, they can simply walk up to the car and swipe the card. This will also give you an officer alert if the person in question is dangerous."
"A road patrol officer could run the plates without getting out of his car, but the person driving may not be who owns the car," added Deputy Ernst. "It's a handy tool to have. We've used it here and probably caught between 20 and 25 people in three weeks."
Sheriff Rodenberg said that there is no current timeline as to how far the trials will continue with the scanners, or if the units will remain with the sheriff's department after that trial is complete.