October 8, 2008
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Contact: Public Affairs Office
Imagine you are a Department of Corrections (DC) probation officer with dozens of sex offenders on your caseload, each with huge files that contain information ranging from their criminal history and place of employment to whether you should beware of a dog when you visit their home. Until recently, the probation officer had to condense all that information and much more into a “Field Sheet” that he took with him to contact offenders, because carting a carload of confidential files is prohibited and unrealistic. Once out in the field, the officer would be unaware of changes to the offender’s status unless he called into the office.
The solution? The Mobile Data Access System, dubbed MDAS, provides real time updates on offenders to officers both in the office and out in the field via laptop. The program, created by DC staff in-house, also gives probation officers instant access to law enforcement data and contacts, and GPS location data for sex offenders who are on active GPS monitoring. The GPS tracking ability is particularly significant because if a sex offender is not home but is on GPS, the officer can pull up their location on the laptop and track them from street to street, if necessary.
“It allows us to work smarter,” said Assistant Secretary of Community Corrections Bruce Grant of the new system. “Our probation officers spend a lot of time in the field so it made sense to make them truly mobile. Most of what they have at their office desk they can now access from the road.”
A probation officer in Dade County on a special operation with the Multi-Agency Gang Task Force had this to say about using MDAS: “I was able to run information through our system that revealed one of the known gang members to be in violation of his probation. This one might have gotten away if we were not able to act based on the information we had. It also provides us with accurate information for our arrest forms in the field.”
Another probation officer said MDAS helps with finding and tracking sex offenders. “One night in the field I was going to do a home visit on a new sex offender’s residence. The numbers on the houses were very difficult to find and/or see. I called the offender at home and he didn’t answer. I took out my computer and looked up the offender’s information on the GPS software application. I then sent a message to his GPS tracking device instructing him to come outside so I could make sure I had the right residence. ”
In addition to real time access to an expansion of Field Sheet data, the MDAS system also provides the officers in the field with:
“The whole point of field contacts is to observe the activities of the offender in their environment and ensure compliance with standard and special conditions of supervision,” according to Shari Britton, Chief of Probation and Parole Field Services. “If you don’t know what those conditions are – and who can remember each offender’s individualized special conditions when the caseloads are high? – then the field work conducted could be ineffective and inefficient.”
The MDAS application was developed in-house by Office of Information Technology staff. The hardware was acquired through a $2 million Bureau of Justice federal grant, which paid for laptop computers and air cards. The system transforms volumes of information from the complex Offender Based Information System (OBIS) into user-friendly form on MDAS. Practical sites were also made available to the officer via laptop, including NCIC/FCIC criminal history, archived data and images, driver license information, near real time GPS tracking, office email and the internet. OIT worked hand-in-hand with Community Corrections operational staff, who provided constant feedback, and suggestions for enhancements to the system.
“MDAS is an excellent value for the people of Florida. Sex offenders are better managed and the public is safer without any additional expense whatsoever. DC’s primary mission is public safety and MDAS is mission-enabling technology,” said DC Chief Information Officer Gene Hatcher.
Field testing of MDAS began November 15, 2007 with 20 CPO’s supervising sex offender caseloads, increasing to 140 CPOs by April 2008. Officers with sex offender caseloads were selected to pilot the program due to the more serious public safety threat with this type of offender, and because of grant fund requirements. By February 2008, all probation officers and supervisors had access to the MDAS application on the desktop. Ultimately, the DC hopes to equip all 2,500 probation officers with laptops and air cards to benefit them from having this real time data and internet access while working in the field. Additional sources of funding for laptops and air cards are being pursued, as grant funding for the laptops and air cards will be exhausted in November 2009.
The response to MDAS from the probation officers with sex offender caseloads who piloted it has been uniformly positive. Feedback by probation officers is attached.
Florida Probation Officer feedback on MDAS:
Some other benefits of the MDAS system: