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Experian QAS address verification at work in CA agency

Written by Brad Brewer

Law enforcement today is constantly dealing with shrinking budgets and resources while being asked to do more. We have too often heard the stories of public safety agencies having to lay off staff while demand for services is actually increasing. In an effort to deal with these pressures, several agencies have taken a rather unique approach to improving efficiencies. This comes as a result of auditing the time and costs associated with inaccurate address data being entered into their systems.

One of these agencies is the Contra Costa County, CA, Sheriff’s Office. They have partnered with Experian QAS to work with their database applications in their civil processes and warrant tracking unit to verify address data in real time as it is captured. Following the deployment of QAS Pro, the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office saw an immediate improvement in address quality, reduced address capture time, and overall efficiencies from reduced document error rates.

Since Experian QAS was founded in 1990, it has become a leading supplier of address management solutions with its range of QAS software. Throughout the world, Experian QAS is committed to using address data from a recognized primary source—usually the national postal authority of any given country. This is typically the best source of address data; individuals want their mail to find them, so they make sure the post office has their most recent address information, thus creating the most accurate address database.

Address management is the ongoing process of ensuring that addresses in your database are accurate and up-to-date. This may seem like a relatively simple task, but according to the United States Postal Service® (USPS), 5% of all mail is undeliverable as addressed. This process is vital for any organization wanting to maintain the validity of key information over time.

In a recent Experian QAS survey, only 50% of government agencies surveyed had a process in place to clean address data. It is especially critical for government agencies to have accurate data as they use this data to send bulk mailings of bills, benefit checks or information to constituents. Agencies also go on-site for tax appraisals or serving of court papers. The status quo for address management is to enter address information from multiple sources into the company’s database and then verify it on the back end with a batch product. The aforementioned statistics make it clear that the current process is a fundamentally flawed one.

There are primarily two methods for address verification: pass/fail or interactive front-end address verification. Many agencies have a pass/fail process in place that provides a “pass” or “fail” flag for each address entered to determine its accuracy. This can be done upfront or in a back-end batch process. While this process highlights an issue, it is not complete. Unfortunately, since the process does not identify what is wrong with a failed address, many users end up overriding the system. Ultimately, this means that bad data is still getting into a database.

By moving address verification to the front end and interactively cleaning data before it enters a database, agencies are able to ensure the integrity of their data. The tool interacts with users to allow them to see if they are misspelling a street name, missing an apartment or suite number, or using an incorrect zip code. Over time, implementing a process like this can drive down overall operational costs and increase efficiencies.

In the same survey mentioned above, those that cleaned address data noticed significant benefits, and many inefficiencies and wasted costs were eliminated. 58% noticed a reduction in postage costs, 50% noticed fewer call-center calls, and 52% had to make fewer physical site visits due to a bad address.

Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office

Contra Costa County is the ninth most populous county in California, with its population reaching approximately 1,051,677 as of Jan. 1, 2008. The Contra Costa Sheriff’s Office has 700 sworn members and 300 civilians. Throughout the entire department, address data capture and verification is important, especially in areas like inmate intake at the jail booking process, but even moreso in the Sheriff’s Civil Unit where they serve legal documents in the field (court enforcement orders, civil writs or any other legal documents that require personal service). These documents are typically issued by a court and transferred to the Sheriff’s Office or through citizens walking up to the front counter.

The old adage “Garbage in, garbage out,” referring to inaccurate information being entered into an agency’s records management system, is never so true as at the inmate intake process in the jail. The county jail is usually one of the sources of the worst address data for any police or sheriff’s department. Inmates may withhold relevant address details; other times, inmates don’t know all of their address details, or language barriers inhibit relaying accurate information. Inaccurate address data captured during the booking process can also lead to further confusion as it is that same data that’s typically used by other divisions in the Sheriff’s Office, and there is a strong likelihood that it will be used again in another booking process for the same inmate. When capturing an address, the booking deputy is often forced to guess or make assumptions on spelling, completeness and accuracy.

Experian QAS address verification software facilitates that very process. As the booking deputy types in the address, the predictive text will auto-populate the correct address based on the latest software updates in the system. QAS Pro features a unique type-down method of address data capture that is helping jail admissions staff make more educated decisions on probable addresses for offenders. The tool prompts for missing apartment numbers, street directionals, and automatically spells and formats address details correctly. The booking deputy knows within seconds if the information is false and can challenge the prisoner for a real address.

On average, the Sheriff’s Civil Unit delivers around 200 documents a week, so their efficiency relies on how accurate the address information is on the documents they are serving. Civil processes such as evictions, subpoenas, probate orders, writs of possession to seize personal property, personal property foreclosures, condemnations and executing probate orders often have inaccurate contact information for involved parties supplied by the court system. Can you imagine the liability issues of evicting someone from the wrong address?

In order to increase efficiencies in its operations, specifically to help avoid the many problems caused by capturing wrong addresses, the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office implemented address verification from Experian QAS. To ensure that accurate address data is captured on initial delivery of the civil documents to the Sheriff’s office, QAS Pro, a unique, real-time address validation tool, interfaces with any agency’s existing software application, regardless of vendor. In the Contra Costa case, the Civil Unit civilian clerks use the address verification software right from the initial point of contact when the document arrives and is entered into the system, or when a member of the public attends the front counter to request that a document be served. The clerk immediately enters the address information and confirms that the address does exist and is correct. Even if the address provided has only partial information, the QAS Pro software will use its predictive text to suggest possible addresses that are valid and subsisting within the County. This is a huge time saving application when it is considered that typically 5% to 15% of all addresses entered are incorrect.

Not only are misspelled and inaccurate addresses of concern, but also situations in which the system says “address non-existent.” This is where the intuitive QAS Pro application shows its powerful address database directly sourced from updated postal data by suggesting possible addresses.

Experian QAS Pro is deployed on all front counter workstations in the Civil Unit to ensure that every address entered is accurate. As a backup, the deputies complete a second address verification before going out on the road to confirm that nothing has changed and the address information is still correct. Implementation and training of QAS Pro takes only a few hours, and all relevant staff can be trained on it in a matter of minutes. Employees who capture address data as part of their job function like using the software because it cuts down on the number of keystrokes needed to capture a full address and eliminates chances of misspelling. Each agency can choose its method of updating the data, either by remote access providing real-time updates or, if a more secure environment is required, files can be sent via DVD or any other media requirement.

After the deployment of QAS Pro, the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office saw an immediate reduction in data entry time and improvement in its overall address data quality. QAS Pro ensures that accurate information is delivered to the deputies in the civil unit, with verified accurate address data within the County’s jurisdiction. “Before using the QAS Pro software, we were averaging around five to six incorrectly addressed documents a week. Now we maybe see one a month, if that,” said Sergeant John Lowden of the Sheriff’s Office Civil Unit. If you multiply those five to six incorrectly addressed documents by the personnel hours it takes to deliver each one of them, it’s a significant amount of savings in just one month, let alone a year.

The QAS Pro address verification software is not limited to law enforcement administration. Data entry correction software from Experian QAS increases the speed of address capture and ensures that addresses are accurate and deliverable before they reach the database so that critical documents like warrants, court papers and permits reach recipients on the first attempt. The trend in most law enforcement agencies is to move to some type of E-ticketing process in an effort to increase efficiencies and decrease spoiled tickets from incorrect address information.

Experian’s QAS Pro software can be easily used to ensure ticket integrity right from the point of entry in the patrol car or motor officer’s handheld device. QAS Pro will interface with any other software program available today and typically takes 90 minutes to install and be fully operational. If spoilage is high, ticket revenues are down and efficiencies are minimal. QAS Pro is an application that offers immediate return on investment and will provide significant savings in personnel hours over the long term.

Brad Brewer is a 21-year member of the Vancouver Police Department and is currently assigned as an operational patrol sergeant. He is also a member of the Ford Police Advisory Board. He can be reached via e-mail at sgt1411@gmail.com.

Published in Public Safety IT, Jan/Feb 2010

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