By Katie Winkler
Clinton County Chatter Staff Reporter
Various departments within Clinton County are in the process of upgrading technology and equipment to help provide better public service to residents and to become more efficient.
“Each department is evaluated independently — the levels of technology vary from department to department,” County Administrator Ryan Wood said. “Funding decisions are made based on funding, long-term benefits, general office efficiency.”
Among these departments is the county sheriff’s office, which will be upgrading their in-car cameras, ticket printers, inmate classification system and mobile data systems.
All initiatives will go into effect in 2016.
Before the station received the ticket printers years ago, tickets were hand-written. With the mobile data systems, which are essentially laptops, inside police cars, they are now able to have all information automatically recorded by swiping licenses. This reduced the chance of error.
According to Wood, the public will not see significant changes with the equipment changes. The new equipment will make it easier for the county to implement officer body cameras, if they choose to do so in the future.
He said that these changes are necessary and are usually upgraded every five to six years.
“We have a capital improvement plan and all of our technology equipment is on that plan,” he said. “We plan well in advanced and set money into the IT budgets for those improvements. As they cycle up, they go for apart of the overall budget and typically would approve it and would be on account to solicit bids for that.”
Upgrades like the in-car videos keeps officers responsible for their actions on the job. Whenever a resident feels they were mistreated, these is documented records of the occurrence and officials are able to assess the situation after watching video. The cameras specifically monitor out the front window, which can be helpful at traffic stops.
“It certainly makes the officers more efficient, there is less error, it saves them clerical time,” Wood said. “They are more cost effective. There is more honesty in police work and public, too. We get fewer complaints about being mistreated by officers — if they were mistreated, there is record of it. It holds them to accountability.”
Currently, administrators are preparing a request of approval for these sheriff-related initiatives. The sheriff’s department hopes to implement this equipment by spring of 2016.
The information technology department for Clinton County has been continuously implementing document management and imaging projects by different offices. They started with the clerk and how have covered probate court, Friend of the Court and some circuit courts.
Every year, IT selects a different department to implement this program to. All departments are expected to be done in the next five to seven years, IT Director Craig Thelen said said.
“When a document comes into an office, that has to go to another office, it goes into workflow, you get the barcode label on it, and put it into the system and it shows up in somebody’s inbox,” Thelen said. “When they are done, it automatically goes to the next office or person that has work to do on that document. It goes through until it is finished.”
Thelen said the more automation they have, the more efficient an office becomes. It also reduces the amount of paper and copying the offices use.
“It makes things more accurate, there is a better flow, there is better accountability to see where that work is — you can go into the system and see when that work has to be done and check where that document is being held up,” he said.
In addition, IT is constantly upgrading their security and virtualization, to make things documents and information more accessible to the public.
The drain asset management system is going to be upgraded this next year, as well. This program keeps track of the utilities that are considered assets, and keeps track of when, what and where work was done.
“Right now, we don’t have a good way to do that. It is kind of paper drawings or written type records or even in people’s heads,” Drain Commissioner Phil Hanses said.” What we are trying to do is move that information into a new format so it can be accessed easily…so we can kind of map those things and help us plan our future work.”
Staff members will have tablets to enter information into so that those in the office have immediate access.
On the public service side of things, residents will receive answers to their concerns sooner than they have in the past. Hanses said that if a local was to call and ask about a specific program that was previously delegated to another employee, he would have to search for that individual and get all the information he needed before calling the resident back.
Now, it will be simple to look up in a computer system and they can easily respond to all questions and concerns concerning drainage issues.
“We want to be able to have information at our fingertips,” he said.
This program is hoping to be applied by the end of the year.
According to Toni Somers, business professor at Wayne State University and expert in Management Information Systems, Total Quality Management and IT Security, updates like these are essential to any department.
“Newer software and hardware has better capabilities than older equipment…there is more diversity in what you can do,” she said. “What it boils down to is being more effective and efficient with whatever area you are updating your IT.”