States Turn to Computers To Fight Crime on the Cheap

STATE executives across the nation are looking to high-tech solutions to cope with budget shortfalls in their fight against crime.

New technologies are ``the only way we can make progress at a time of limited government resources,'' South Carolina Gov. Carroll Campbell (R) told a gathering of national governors in Boston last month. ``There's going to be a major infrastructure expansion in this country.''

Some examples:

* Maryland's Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services is constructing an automated booking facility. Its new client/server computer system will process all adults arrested in Baltimore, including on-line, live-scan fingerprint image transmission, electronic video mug shots, and bar-code technology on detainee bracelets. Officers will use hand-held scanners to track an individual's movement throughout the booking process. Booking procedures in Baltimore are expected to be on line by 1995, and then expanded to the rest of the state. State officials expect to free up 150 police officers by next July as a result of this innovative use of technology.

``We're looking for technologically based solutions. If we can cut arrest times, we can put tens of thousands of man hours back on the street [for police patrols],'' says Leonard Sipes, Maryland's director of public information.

``If we don't find technological solutions, I don't think the solutions will be there at all,'' he adds. ``Most states are in a fiscal crisis and the ability of a state to implement large-scale change are nonexistent.''

* Virginia has created a firearms-transaction program to electronically access criminal records and ``wanted'' databases. All gun dealers in the state are required to complete a criminal-record check on prospective gun purchasers by calling the state police on a toll-free number. In most cases, the response is immediate. As a result of the 718,000 transactions processed since 1989, 7,106 purchases were disapproved and 450 fugitives were identified. Fifty percent of these fugitives were subsequently arrested.

* New Hampshire State Police are developing a digital communication system to replace traditional analog radios. The new system will allow police cars to transmit faxes and photographs over the same lines as voice information. The state plans to invest $7.5 million in the project over the next year.

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