In 1992, the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office was still storing and distributing information as it had for the past half century — i.e., via personal memory, word of mouth, telephone and paper files. While these tried-and-true methods were reliable and robust, they were not keeping up with the expectations of our increasingly dynamic regional economy, with the many social changes taking place in Essex County, and with the opportunities for increased efficiency and effectiveness that information technology was already providing. There were only five computer terminals in the entire Office. However, the various Prosecutors since that time have recognized the opportunities being missed and have committed the Office to joining the computer and communications technology revolution.
Therefore, within the past decade, the Essex Prosecutor’s Office has experienced in compressed fashion all three phases of computer systems development that have occurred since the 1960s. The first phase involved a centralized system based around an AS/400 mini-mainframe computer, an efficient but inflexible system used for a limited number of organizational applications. Following soon thereafter, the Office came to exploit the versatility of the desktop microcomputer, assigning hundreds of stand-alone PC systems to personnel throughout the organization. Within the past three years, the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office committed itself to the current phase of information technology architecture, i.e. to linking desktop PCs and other peripheral devices (such as copying machines) together via a unified client-server network. This gains the efficiency that mainframes introduced while preserving the flexibility that PCs brought.
Over $2 million has been spent since year 2000 to purchase servers, routers and other connection equipment, advanced software, training, additional desktop PCs and peripheral equipment (scanners, printers, etc.), and wiring to every corner of the Office. At the same time, the Office committed itself to user training and changes in business methods that will eventually realize the “almost paperless” office of the 21st Century. By 2001, most employees had access to network data folders, and in 2002 e-mail and Internet access was phased in. The use of scanners for digitalized document storage and e-forms for routine transactions was also implemented, and advanced graphics and printing capacity were utilized for case investigation and analysis (e.g., maps of crime scenes, high-resolution digitalized photos of suspects and evidence, etc.). Over the next few years, the Office expects to reap large benefits through improved employee productivity and increased effectiveness. This effort will also help the Office to better communicate with the community that it serves, e.g. via this web site.
The Essex County Prosecutor’s Office Information Technology Section is currently staffed by a director, a programmer analyst, three help desk specialists, two audiovisual media specialists and an office automation specialist / trainer. Although the hardware installation phase of the current client-server system is now in place, many challenges remain for the Information Technology Section. These include the employee training efforts and business method changes necessary to fully exploit these new communication tools. The Section is also committed to continual system maintenance and physical upgrading, so that the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office will stay up-to-date with technology. The Section also cooperates and coordinates with the Forensic Analysis and Cyber Technical Services Unit. Finally, the Section works closely with the Executive Assistant Prosecutor and the web site coordinator to provide hosting and technical support for this web site.
Network Administration/Helpdesk – This section’s main objective is to focus on strategic areas that sustain critical infrastructure through day-to-day operations, modifications, augmentations, replacement and routine maintenance of desktop computer, communication equipment, server equipment, proper infrastructure security, software and database software. The section also provides end user hardware, software, computer support, as well as dependable remote, mobile services with appropriate security mechanisms.
Office Automation/Training – The ECPO Forms Bank continues to expand with additional standardized and computerized forms and formats created to automate the paperwork process. Individual units have greatly expedited their workload utilizing forms customized to meet their specific needs.
Advances in the training and support of individual computer users are met through “ECPO University,” a training program designed to support ECPO staff. Courses are offered to enhance the staff’s knowledge base, and mandatory courses, such as “Introduction to ECPO Technology” and “Introduction to Promis/Gavel” are included in the “New Hire” course.
Software Engineering – In an effort to meet the increasing need for statistical and technical data, the ongoing development of office-wide databases and maintenance of existing databases has allowed Assistant Prosecutors and Detectives to track their cases, log evidence and print detailed reports.
Media Services/Litigation Support – Media services are provided to all units of the ECPO to assist Assistant Prosecutors and Detectives in preparing, organizing and presenting information at all stages of litigation. Media is conveyed through the creation of large-scale graphic displays, including maps, charts, graphs, timelines and automated presentations utilizing various video and computer equipment. Additionally, mass production of media discovery materials is generated from the ITU, among other services.
2016 provided many challenges for the office and the Information Technology Unit in training and implementing a new Criminal Case Management system, new Office Productivity Software, expanding the use of a Mobile Workforce and the beginning of providing support 24/7 to in-house personnel and police departments in the county.
This was a partial result of what occurred in November of 2014 when New Jersey voters approved Criminal Justice Reform/Speedy Trial Act, a ballot question, amending the state constitution to allow judges to release low-risk offenders without bail and deny bail to high-risk offenders. Throughout 2015 and 2016, the ITU had been working to prepare for the changes that took effect on January 1, 2017. Under the new law, a hearing must be held within 48 hours of arrest, including weekends, to determine whether a defendant is deemed high risk or not.
This change has provided an opportunity for all agencies to review and improve casework flow processing, policies and the use of technology to ensure the agency is prepared to meet the new standards.