Our mission in the Nicollet County, Minn. Sheriff’s Office is to offer outstanding law enforcement services. Our 12-person staff is responsible for a Minnesota county of more than 280,000 acres—a job that can be difficult enough even with the best of equipment. Unfortunately, however, we have not always had the best of equipment for some of our operations. For quite some time, we worked with a cumbersome digital dictation system without realizing there were better options available.
Like many other law enforcement agencies, we use dictation to record interviews with crime suspects and victims. A simple and accurate recording system is a high priority because we don’t want it to hinder our investigators and deputies as they go about their duties. Recording needs to be as accurate and seamless as possible.
That’s why we tried hard for many years to stay current with upgrades and do all of the other things necessary to create an efficient system for dictating and transcribing. But despite our best efforts, our deputies and IT staff found that installing new devices while maintaining our former system was becoming more and more challenging.
Every time we upgraded to a new handheld voice recorder, for instance, we had to worry about changing the software. Each hardware upgrade required a simultaneous software upgrade. To make matters more difficult, the various versions of hardware and software were not compatible with each other.
This caused quite a few workflow problems for our deputies, who share common computers. We typically have two deputies on one desk, but only those who were using the same model of recording device could use the same computer—and even then, they could only use it if their computer’s software had been updated to recognize the device they used.
That limited our options, and meant that deputies or investigators coming in from the field might be forced to stand around waiting for someone else to finish using one particular computer. Needless to say, this was hardly an efficient way to operate. Our dictation system was impeding our effectiveness as an office; it was becoming more burden than aid.
Making the Transition
One of the reasons we originally chose digital recorders over tape-based analog devices was because digital devices make it much easier to create and edit files. But we learned that even among digital systems, there are some pretty significant differences. It is important to match a system’s features with individual workflow needs or else it may not deliver the efficiency expected.
It may even be detrimental, as we found when our former system periodically “lost” dictation files. I would click on a file and it would just “disappear,” apparently because the system was configured incorrectly. Imagine trying to work a case and being unable to access a vital statement.
Now, however, we no longer worry about these kinds of issues. In late 2010 we happened to talk with our business equipment dealer, who recommended that we contact several law enforcement offices of about our size who were successfully using the Philips’s SpeechExec Enterprise voice workflow solution. After researching their experiences, we came on board with it in the spring of 2011.
The transition—including all staff training—took two days and could not have been easier. In fact, that’s when the implementation team’s IT specialist discovered and fixed the problem of lost files. We had access to all files recorded previously, as well as those recorded on the new system.
Our process for sending recorded files to the transcriptionist also improved. Most of our files are sent to an offsite transcriptionist, and their security is obviously a high priority. With the new system in place, we transmit encrypted dictation files over a secure email system, as well as convert the files into a number of different file formats (such as .DSS, for example). This allows us to send files in formats that other law enforcement agencies can accept, while still keeping private data secure.
Easing Interdepartmental Communication
While it sounds simple, perhaps the most important thing an office can do when implementing a new voice recording system is to have staff work with it as much as possible and as soon as possible. Our entire office seized the opportunity, working with it and testing it out to become comfortable with it.
We immediately saw a huge time savings just from the ability to more easily find dictation files. Before, for instance, it routinely took me half an hour just to locate a file. To make copies of statements for other agencies like the county attorney’s office, I’d have to physically go to each deputy’s computer to download and burn the files.
With cases increasingly involving more and more interviews—and sometimes multiple deputies—that time added up. Now I do it all from my desk. It takes just over a minute to find, convert, and burn files to a disc for archiving or sending to other agencies, which cuts my time substantially.
Better yet is the fact that the sheriff’s office now is able to collaborate more easily with the Nicollet County Attorney’s Office and the County Human Services Office because we all use the same voice solution and are connected via the network. This provides each agency access to files from the other agencies. Working together, our offices are creating a seamless and overarching system for voice data that makes information quickly, easily and securely available to all concerned parties.
The problems our office experienced due to of our previous system’s incompatible hardware and software are long gone. Deputies can use any computer in the office for their dictation and reporting, which has improved efficiency and productivity. We have streamlined the ability to share files with offsite transcriptionists and other county agencies, which frees us all to tackle more pressing issues.
These factors are not merely conveniences. They are crucial to ensuring that we are capable of upholding our mission to provide top-quality law enforcement services for the residents of our county.
Karl Jensen is Chief Deputy of the Nicollet County Sheriff’s Office in Nicollet County, Minn. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.