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Sheriff installing new electronic traffic ticket and law violation system

Wadena County will soon be one of the first counties in northern Minnesota to have the new e-Charging system installed in its squad cars and connected to the courthouse, commissioners learned at their Oct. 19 meeting.

The e-Charging system is a four-part system for electronic processing of citations, criminal complaints, incident referrals, and DWI administrative forms. It is expected to save the county money and staff time, and reduce mistakes.

Sheriff Mike Carr and Chief Deputy Bill Cross appeared before the board along with Seventh District Court Administration official Rhonda Bot to explain the parts of the system and the process of implementing it. The system is already in use throughout the Twin Cities metro counties and in Otter Tail County. Douglas, Todd and Morrison Counties are in the process of putting it in place as well.

Carr told the board that court systems throughout Minnesota are moving in the direction of electronic complaint and traffic ticket charging, and the system is expected to be in place statewide in all counties by 2014. The Wadena County squad cars already have the hardware installed and just need to purchase the software programs, maintenance services and installation. The sheriff's department budget has funding in place to pay the $37,000 cost for the rest of the system. No "new money" is involved.

When it is up and running sometime in early 2012, the system will allow police departments and county sheriff's deputies to electronically send traffic tickets to the courthouse from their cars. It will allow prosecutors to electronically process summonses and warrants and submit complaints to courts. It will allow law enforcement records clerks to refer incidents to the prosecutors' offices for the creation of criminal complaints. And it will allow law enforcement officers to electronically submit the required DWI paperwork to the state of Minnesota for DWI stops.

According to a Minnesota Public Radio report by Dan Gunderson, Carver County estimates that eCharging will save that county $100,000 a year in staff time and paper costs. Gunderson reported that the "ultimate goal [of state officials] is for Minnesota's judicial system to be paperless from the police squad car, to the judge's bench" (May 4, 2011).

It's not likely that Wadena County will save that much money, because it is a much smaller county than Carver County, but the system will save staff time and increase efficiency. These are important benefits in a time of shrinking local government budgets and reduced court staffing.