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Order in the Court

CLERMONT COUNTY, OHIO, which encompasses 480 square miles about 15 miles east of Cincinnati, is home to approximately 180,000 people. Three courthouses serve the area. When visitors arrive at the largest of the three, Clermont County Municipal Courthouse in Batavia, Ohio, they are now greeted by a large sign stating that anyone who wants to enter must first show identification and submit to an instant, limited background check.

To conduct the check, an officer scans the person’s driver’s license into a handheld screening device. If the person entering the building does not have a driver’s license, the officer can use the keypad on the device to enter a Social Security number, a date of birth, or a name.

The check is carried out to determine whether the person entering is wanted by local law enforcement. The device checks the person’s ID against a database of outstanding warrants and related law enforcement information (more on this later).

After scanning an ID or entering information, the unit will issue one beep if the ID is good and there is no information about that person. If the ID is false or the person is flagged in the system for some reason, the unit will issue a series of beeps. This indicates that the officer should investigate further.

According to Sergeant Gary West, the county added the screening device—called the M2500 Sentry Handheld, manufactured by Mobilisa of Port Townsend, Washington—to enhance the security at the courthouse. The checkpoints already had metal detectors in a setup similar to that at airports, says West. Everyone who enters the building has to go through the checkpoint. The 16-person police unit assigned to the courthouse also uses CCTV surveillance to monitor activity in and around each courtroom.

The police department learned about the M2500, which uses software developed by Intelli-Check, Inc., of Woodbury, New York, through a colleague, says Deputy Rob Cordes. “He showed us the product and told us that it had been frequently used on military bases.”

The system installed at the courthouse consists of two scanning units and a docking port. The docking port is linked to a secure Web site. The Web site allows access to the police database. The database is updated every 24 hours. The scanning units get hooked into the docking port each night, enabling officers to download the latest police database information for use the next day. They also upload any information they obtained during the course of scanning operations. For example, if a person wanted on a warrant came into the courthouse to address that warrant, this new information would be uploaded.

The database contains all police information from Clermont County as well as information from all police departments that use the scanners. Mobilisa maintains the secure Web site that links to police databases. However, Cordes points out that the database does not include information from the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), which is maintained by the FBI.

Cordes notes that the scanner is used as a first line of defense and all information is verified. For example, if the scanner notes that a visitor is wanted on a warrant, the officer can verify that by using a computer at the checkpoint and logging into a secure Mobilisa site. The officer can then use a password to check for updates to ensure that the information has not changed in the 24 hours since the database was last updated. Similarly, when investigating an alert from the unit, police officers can check several state databases as well as NCIC by going to a dedicated computer to retrieve that information.

The unit will also issue an alert if the person has a police record, even if the individual is not wanted on a warrant. “This can be very useful in domestic cases,” says West. “Just to know who is in the building.”

Since police began using the scanner in late 2006, they have moved one unit to the county corrections facility to check visitors. After hours, state troopers borrow the units to screen motorists at DUI (driving while under the influence) checkpoints.

The product has been simple to use, says Cordes. “We had a brief training session for the officers but the units are user-friendly, so no repeat training has been necessary.”

The scanners have been effective. “Within the first ten minutes we used it, we caught a person wanted on a warrant,” says Cordes.

The product is most helpful when used as part of the overall security arsenal. For example, when an officer was conducting routine checks of those coming into the courthouse, the unit alerted that a person was a known associate of someone wanted for bank robbery. The officer relayed this information to another officer who went to the parking lot to search for the car owned by the person entering the courthouse. When he located the car, he found the bank robber sitting quietly, waiting for his friend to return.

(For more information: Steve Williams, consultant, sales and marketing, Intelli-Check, Inc., phone: 703/683-4313 ext. 130; fax: 703/683-3323; e-mail: steve.williams Intelli-Check, Inc., and Mobilisa, Inc., have signed a definitive agreement to combine companies. The merger is expected to be complete this month.)