Robert Beeks remembers the last time he participated in a document-imaging project a few years ago while working for a Southwestern state. The task was to scan approximately 20,000 documents per month for a district attorney's office, converting the paper documents to digital images.

They used a flat scanner, and like others who were converting paper files to digital images at that time, the state's scanning technology was less than stellar. Beeks and other staff members had to review the scans and correct problems caused by the scanners.

Not surprisingly, the push to convert paper documents to digital images died down because of that type of result.

"The inability of OCR [optical character recognition] readers to accurately digitize documents without large numbers of corrections stopped most of it," said Todd Shipley, director of Training Services for SEARCH, the National Consortium for Justice Information and Statistics.

On the Rebound

Scanning technology has improved since then, and there appears to be a second wave of government agencies converting records to digital images, finding it easier to turn stacks of paper documents into digital files. Although many agencies aren't ready to give up paper completely -- often still producing paper records, but fewer copies -- the newly digitized records improve data access, ease information sharing, maximize customer service and increase overall efficiency by saving time and labor.

The St. Petersburg Police Department in Florida is undergoing a transition to digital documents with ImageOne Corp., while in Washington County, Ore., the Sheriff's Department and district attorney are the latest local agencies to convert to digital imaging.

Other law enforcement agencies, including the Los Angeles Police Department and the San Bernardino, Calif., Sheriff's Department, are in the midst of similar projects. The County Clerk's Office in Suffolk County, N.Y., is converting its land records to digital and making money in the process.

The Washington County Sheriff's Department watched its neighbors in Marion and Lane counties convert paper to digital records. Marion County started small, with initial implementations in the Recordings Office and the Department of Health and Human Services. It worked out well and the county eventually expanded to the district attorney's office.

Lane County also had success, and shared it with Beeks, now the manager of Business Application Support for Washington County.

"I went down and saw a demonstration there," he recalled. "They were talking about how well they were able to implement the system, and what they were able to do with it. That was a clincher."

Beeks said he used those two examples to find out what the technology could do for Washington County, then put out an RFP to locate the vendor best suited for the job. It turned out to be VP Consulting based in Eugene, Ore. And the same vendor used by both Lane and Marion counties, and other jurisdictions throughout the Pacific Northwest.

Intelligent Scanners

There's more to scanning documents than placing them on the scanner. Today's scanners are more intelligent, Beeks explained, and can recognize a two-sided document and automatically scan both sides. Scanners can even make horizontal or vertical adjustments of a page that's not centered.

"There's a lot of automatic functionality that's supposed to assist us in being able to maintain good quality scanning," Beeks said.

Washington County purchased three large Fujitsu scanners -- about the size of a desktop PC --for around $2,500 each, and seven smaller Fujitsu scanners for $1,100 apiece, all from VP Consulting.

The larger scanners scan about 40 pages per minute, while the smaller ones scan about 25. The scanning will begin after all the workstations are loaded with Kofax image scanning software and after the workflow processes have been defined. Part of that process is gathering e-mail

Jim McKay, Justice and Public Safety Editor  |  Justice and Public Safety Editor