Ontario homicide cops tout document management

Ontario law enforcement agencies are using a document management process that simplifies e-disclosure and converts homicide case documents into digital format.

The Ontario Homicide Investigators Association (OHIA), which is comprised of a couple dozen local police services and government law enforcement agencies across the province, have standardized on Adobe Inc.’s PDF format to manage and distribute case information to prosecutors, defence attorneys, and other applicable court staff.

“The average case can be anywhere from 30,000 to 50,000 pages,” Ian Grant, detective inspector with the Ontario Provincial Police’s (O.P.P.) organized crime enforcement bureau, said. Hard copy documents can be difficult to cart into court and also take a lot of staff time, effort, and money to compile, he added.

Under the OHIA’s new process, every police department involved is moving toward a completely electronic system where no paper is required. At the O.P.P., Grant said, criminal case management information generated in digital format is never printed, and instead filed in the police department’s electronic filing system.

“For anything seized in paper format, we keep the original in hard copy and then scan copies to PDF,” he said. The O.P.P. also uses Adobe’s optical character recognition tool to make the PDF’s searchable and ACD Systems Ltd.’s AC/DSee Photo Software to allow officers to tag photographs or handwritten notes, he added.

Any interviews that are conducted during an investigation are recorded digital and filed on the same hard drive (but in different folders) as the other PDF documents, he said. Additionally, officers also have the ability to black out sensitive, privacy-protected information in the documents using Adobe’s redaction feature.

While many cases are still using paper documents, e-disclosure is growing at a rapid pace. Grant said the courts have deemed it an acceptable method to carry out case management as long as it’s organized, contained in one spot, easy to use for the officers and legal professionals involved and, most importantly, readily searchable.

George Goodall, senior research analyst with London, Ont.’s Info-Tech Research Group Ltd., highlighted the search issue and its importance to an effective document management system in many organizations.

After choosing a format, organizations must also stay consistent in reporting and documenting the information, he said. In the case of the OHIA initiative, that would mean every police department in Ontario standardizing their processes and how they digitize the information.

“When you look at medical records, for instance, you have to look at how to ingest and capture the information,” Goodall said. “Do you do it at a work group level or do you ship the documents off to various agencies to digitize in a bulk fashion.”

“Plus there’s the decision on how much information you want to digitalize and how far back you go.”

For the OHIA, going back and digitalizing the archives might not be necessary for case management, but in the medical sector, hospitals might want digital records that date back a number of years.

Transferring doctor recommendations – often handwritten at the bottom of a medical document – can be an especially tedious project because such information has to be manually tagged to show up in a search, Goodall said.

“Other things to think about include the conditions of the document, do they have water damage, bent corners, or staples that will affect the scanning devices,” he said. “There has to be a process for the pre-production of transferring these documents into the digital format.”

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