Florida State Attorney's 15th Judicial Circuit
Circuit Locates Case Files in Real Time Using RFID
Over the course of a year the Florida Office of the State Attorney's 15th Judicial Circuit located in Palm Beach County typically considers 120,000 criminal cases for potential prosecution. Of those, as many as 21,000 active felony case files come into the office each year for review and process. The files move through a number of steps during the life of the case, and can be transferred several times between divisions and offices throughout the four floors in the 45,000 square foot building. Additional complexity is introduced when court calendars change, or case hearing and trial dates are unexpectedly moved up. Keeping track of such a large number of highly important files as they move through the court system is very challenging.
"It is not that they are misplaced," says Dan Zinn, chief information officer, project manager, and system architect for the Office of the State Attorney's 15th Judicial Circuit. "It's just that no one is sure where the files are in the process. In order to ensure that each file could be located quickly and efficiently, Zinn's team in 2004 began researching the concept of tracking case files using radio frequency identification (RFID) technology, but found the available technology was not ready for adoption yet.
"During this time period there were no standards in place and RFID tag costs were still too high to make the project cost-effective. So, we put the project on hold for a couple of years," said Zinn.
Fortunately, Zinn says, the 15th Judicial Circuit state attorney, Barry E. Krischer, has been championing the project from the beginning. "My state attorney is a visionary," he states. "It is his vision and his support that made this happen."
In 2006, with EPCGlobal's EPC Generation 2 standards in place and RFID tag costs going down, Zinn's team looked for an integrator to help them design a solution using passive RFID tags integrated with a real-time location system (RTLS) to track the thousands of felony case files the court system processes annually.
They selected InnerWireless, a Richardson, Texas-based company as the system integrator, and looked to integrate its PanGo Unified Asset Visibility Platform with the Circuit's electronic case filing system, called STAC. "With their successful implementations in hospitals, InnerWireless gave us a high level of comfort," said Zinn.
In addition to InnerWireless' PanGo software, Zinn's solution was comprised of a tag database with a ThingMagic® Mercury5 RFID interrogator (RFID reader), and 1-by-4-inch paper labels with embedded Alien Technology EPC Gen 2 RFID tags.
In parallel, Zinn's team was working with Simply RFiD, a Warrenton, Va.-based developer of supply chain logistics and asset management systems, to select a printer/encoder and implement a methodology for printing and distributing labels.
"At the time, we were moving along with InnerWireless's technology but did not have an effective tag solution until we found Simply RFiD," said Zinn. "Be¬cause of the company's expertise in tagging and labeling supplies shipped to the U.S. Department of Defense, Simply RFiD was able to immediately come up with a tagging solution and the software to produce the tags."
Simply RFiD provided the Zebra® R110Xi™ RFID printer/encoder, the tag printing application and consulting related to RFID programming and tag control. In addition, the company provided the Florida State Attorney's Office with a solution for creating staff ID cards with the Zebra P430i™ RFID badge printer.
Carl Brown, president of Simply RFiD, explained that it was in compliance with the DoD- 96 Identity Type and selected the numbering scheme for CASE-Level tags. The standard is ratified by EPC Global. "Using this format uniquely identifies the tags to our organization," said Brown. "This approach also allows our numbers scheme to be transportable if there is need to integrate with other tracking systems. Using the DoD schema, if you receive spurious RFID data, you can tell it's not yours because the encoded numbers would not be in your pre-designated DoD format."
Zinn explains, "Initially, we planned on having our Intake division batch print the labels, which was the current method of label printing. But tag programming and printing a barcode on the tag from a central location proved to be successful, which reduced costs and provided a method of tag control. The division supervisor controls tag distribution."
"We chose the Zebra R110Xi because it provided a robust solution offering investment protection, ef¬ficiency and productivity. It also offered flexibility in tag placement and label size, as well as seamless integration into our network," said Zinn.
barcode readers from MetroLogic , now a part of Honeywell, read the barcodes from the RFID tags placed on the files. Then, the barcode number is input into STAC—the State Attorney's Office's file—tracking software-and related to the case ID and case number. The data is transferred from the readers' Transmission Control Protocol (TCP)/Internet Protocol (IP) over a WLAN that is attached to InnerWireless' PanGo application server.
InnerWireless' PanGo Platform middleware aggregates the unique ID numbers the interrogators cull from the RFID tags, then calculates locations and passes that information to STAC.
Employees can access STAC and, in two keystrokes, determine a file's whereabouts on a graphically presented floor plan. The system can identify the floor and office containing the file, as well as how long it has been in that location. In addition, the system can present a list of cases located within a particular area, and staffers can click further to find more information on a specific file listed. According to Zinn, the system is extremely accurate.
Zinn explains that one of the more exciting aspects of the project was that it required literally no staff training. The only function staff needed to learn was directly from the STAC case screen. To select a file, they hit Control-I. "The implementation was seamless and transparent and required little or no system maintenance by IT staff."
In February 2007, the solution went live at the State Attorney's Office. "The project actually took about 60 days to design, install and implement. Much of the seven months was spent waiting on building approvals and scheduling electrical service for the 14 readers," said Zinn.
Because the implementation of standards-based technologies typically allows the flexibility of extending cost-effective RFID solutions to other aspects of the office, Zinn's team is now in the process of working with InnerWireless, Simply RFiD and Zebra to implement an employee ID tracking system. In time, the system will track up to 400 employees to determine which employee has taken a file in or out of the building.
Zinn continues, "By the end of 2008, we will have completed implementation of a motion-sensored video camera system at each exit. The time-stamped photos can be associated with the RFID reader locations to visually track who left with a specific case file. In addition, we expect to expand RFID tracking to mobile assets, such as laptops and AV equipment."
In addition, Zinn explains how the original project expanded into other business processes. "When we initially started the RFID project, we wanted to avoid bar coding," he notes. "But after learning about Zebra's array of solutions and capabilities we decided to buy Zebra's TLP 3844-Z™ to barcode the files in our misdemeanor division, which reviews about 100,000 misdemeanor cases a year. This requires manual entry of a 20-digit case number on 30 to 40 files daily. Now, the barcode can be quickly scanned and placed into our system but does not need to be tracked by RTLS."
If we can't find the file, the case can literally be thrown out. For every case, there is a victim, and if we don't do our job, then the victims get hurt. You can't put a value on that.
"We measured the project's success by the instantaneous responses from our staff. Everyone says they love the new system," says Zinn. In fact, one staff member reports that she saves at least four to five hours a month, which were previously spent searching for files.
Additionally, office e-mail requests to staff to check their respective work areas for files have dropped from an average of five or more requests per week to less than one. While searching for and locating files can be time-consuming and pull employees away from more important work, if files aren't found, case outcomes can be jeopardized. On the first day the system was used, a critical file needed for court that day was thought to be lost but was successfully located in a matter of minutes after the file number was put into STAC.
"We estimated that approximately 6 percent of felony cases required people to stop what they were doing and to locate a file. At times as many as five people would be involved in locating a case file," said Zinn. "The time involved locating a file varied, but we estimated an average of 20 minutes. The cost to the State and the taxpayers amounted to approximately $100,000 annually." Zinn mentions the risks and associated indirect costs of a file that took too long to locate: A misplaced case file could result in a lost case, allowing a criminal to go free or a delay of the criminal process. This would add additional costs to the taxpayers.
- If a guilty person goes free, the price paid by the victims and the community is very high.
- The potential risk to the community of that criminal avoiding punishment and perpetrating another felony makes the price incalculable.
In addition, Zinn explains that while the RFID tracking of cases started out as a cost-saving, morale-building tool for the office a year ago, now it is becoming a mission-critical function due to reductions in government funding and staff.
When asked about the most important benefit from the RFID tracking system, Zinn said, "If we can't find the file, the case can literally be thrown out. For every case, there is a victim, and if we don't do our job, then the victims get hurt. You can't put a value on that."
To date, the Florida Office of the State Attorney's 15th Judicial Circuit is the first government agency in Florida to use RFID and RTLS tracking and serves as a role model for using innovative technology to improve business efficiency. It took the vision of State Attorney Barry E. Krischer, Zinn and his technical team to create a groundbreaking solution to solve a mission-critical business and public safety problem.