Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office
Sheriff Marlin N. Gusman
Mobile Command Center
Automated Calls Inform and Protect Public and Deliver Savings
Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office Deploys Victims Notification Dialer and Inmate Information Line
Public safety is a primary responsibility of law enforcement. Sheriff Marlin N. Gusman of the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office (OPSO) in New Orleans is taking innovative measures to ensure that readily accessible information related to public safety is available to inform and protect those in his jurisdiction. One such program implemented by OPSO uses automated telephone technology to provide real-time, critical data to the public, and also brings about considerable savings based on the efficiencies the technology delivers.
The Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office is responsible for the care, custody and control of roughly 3,500 incarcerated individuals. The parish controls 8 jail sites and manages the local booking and release facility. Additionally OPSO provides security to all Civil, Municipal, and Criminal courts in Orleans Parish. As one might imagine, this is a large undertaking for Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin N. Gusman and his staff. Sheriff Gusman runs an innovative organization that keeps a keen eye on new tools and technologies that will improve community safety and deliver value.
A Need for Automation
Initially, the need for automated telephone technology arose from the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina, which destroyed much of the prison’s infrastructure in late August, 2005. Jim Miller, Director of Technical Services at OPSO, describes the situation, “Prior to Katrina, the sheriff’s office employed more than 20 individuals whose job it was to answer the public’s questions concerning incarcerated individuals. We provided telephone coverage 24 hours a day, and the staff answered many questions for family, friends and other interested parties about those incarcerated. After Katrina, we entered a rebuilding and recovery phase. The operations of the Sheriff’s office were restored, however many of the employees were evacuated and did not return to the area. We still needed to address public questions regarding incarcerated individuals, but didn’t have staff and facilities to service the calls. This created an opportunity to do something new and innovative.” Formerly, the parish call center provided the public with information regarding the booking and release of over 200 inmates daily, along with data on criminal charges, bond amounts, and other essential information.
The idea of an automated telephone system to replace the services formerly offered by the OPSO call center was devised. Over the course of the next several months, the Office identified a system that was customized to meet their needs. The first phase of the system was designed, customized, tested and deployed soon after.
Phase I was designed to replicate the OPSO inbound call center to offer a 24/7 “Inmate Information Line”, giving the public direct access to authorized information about incarcerated persons. The automated telephone system was set up to integrate with the OPSO jail management system to provide interested parties with a variety of information related to an inmate. In addition to information on criminal charges and bond amounts, the system provides facility location of inmates, visitation information and rules. The Inmate Information Line also provides instructions on receiving or providing personal property (such as clothing) to an inmate, depositing money into an inmate-accessible commissary account, sending mail to an inmate, and blocking or unblocking “collect” telephone calls from the inmate.
When the Inmate Information Line was publicized by OPSO, calls ramped up rapidly. Today, the service is considered very successful in meeting the needs of the public. Jim Miller calculates that the system is handling the equivalent of 8 people answering phone calls continuously for 7 days per week, over 8 hours per day, and that it has paid for itself several times over.
Expanding System Functionality
Building on the success of the automated telephone line, OPSO staff directed their focus to compliance with a Louisiana law requiring jurisdictions to notify victims when an arrestee is released from custody. This state law requires investigating officers to ask each witness or victim if they wish to be notified when the inmate in question is released. After an arrest, paperwork containing the victim’s wishes is collected by the officer and turned over to the incarceration facility. The information includes, among other things, the person’s name, address, telephone contact information, and email.
Sheriff Gusman saw an opportunity to leverage automated telephone technology as a way to deliver this important service in a cost effective manner. Phase II of telephone automation was underway. Jim Miller’s team set out to build an automated outbound calling system for victim notification and, in a matter of weeks, the system was tested and ready to go.
Now, with OPSO’s “Victims Notification Automated Dialer”, the automated system continually checks to see who needs to be notified upon release of an incarcerated person. The system first calls the victim’s cell phone. The telephone script asks the called party to confirm and verify they have received the notification. If the system does not receive confirmation, it will attempt other contact numbers provided by the victim. The system is tenacious and will make attempts every 15 minutes for up to 15 hours or until the victim has been reached. An ancillary function will send an email if the victim provides an email address. If after 15 hours the system has not received a confirmation, the system prints a postcard that is then mailed to the victim. This system of multiple automated attempts to contact victims ensures proper notification, without the added expense of additional personnel.
Requirements of the law had the potential to place an enormous burden on Orleans Parish’s Intake Processing Center, which handles an average of 200 releases per day. The new Victims Notification Automated Dialer not only delivers valuable information to victims, but satisfies the parish’s legal requirement and does so through innovative use of technology.
Sheriff Gusman summarizes the project as follows: “The appropriate use of technology is essential today to provide responsive information dissemination. Through the use of technology, our team has devised a system that conforms to our mandate to deliver this information to the public effectively and in a timely manner. This technology protects and informs, and has the added benefit of saving taxpayers money.”