ATLANTA -- In Atlanta, every police call results in an incident report, and every car crash ends with an accident report. City law requires that these documents be made available quickly to residents and insurance companies. City law is blind to paper glut.

Prior to the 1996 Olympics, the Atlanta Police Department (APD) found itself in a paper morass that met neither the letter nor the spirit of the law. Faced with the need to hire 70 additional people to process the paper, police administrators turned to the city's Bureau of Management Information Systems and its director, John A. Cuffie. Cuffie initiated a wide search that ended in his own backyard at Atlanta-based Com Squared Systems, a national developer of document-management systems since 1980.

The Way It Was

APD deals with a plethora of paper. About a thousand incident and accident reports arrive at the downtown Police Annex every day. Reports average a dozen pages each, so APD clerks deal with over 4 million sheets of paper annually. Most of the files have been accumulating only since the 1970s, but some are much older; records on murders, for example, are kept for 100 years.

Before Com Squared's solution arrived, records since 1990 were kept on paper; earlier documents were microfilmed. The issue was not simply a matter of storage; the documents also had to be accessible. Soon after an incident or accident, insurance companies and residents can request access to these documents. Individuals usually want photocopies, while insurance company and attorney requests create about 200 faxes of documents per day.

Reports were indexed by three fields: the person involved, birthdate and the location of the incident/accident. All too often, erroneous or missing information foiled the retrieval clerks.

Getting paper re-filed correctly after the first use was another serious problem. "After finally finding a document," Cuffie explained, "it was difficult to insure that papers were properly re-filed." Thus, documents that were appropriately delivered a first time might become unavailable if requested again.

Technology to Serve the People

Com Squared's UNISearch is a customized solution for data-intensive problems. The solution had to work hand-in-glove with the Criminal Justice Information System (CJIS), the city's ongoing data warehousing project comprised of VT-Prism and Inslaw software on an IBM mainframe.

While many UNISearch applications include large numbers of computer reports stored on optical disks (COLD technology), APD's solution is pure document imaging. As paper reports arrive at the Police Annex, they are scanned and stored twice -- on an 80GB redundant array of independent disks (magnetic) for quick access, and, later, on an optical disk for archive and security. The lag time between incidents/accidents and document availability, which used to exceed a week, is now 48 hours or less.

This storage management insures that the information will be in magnetic form and immediately deliverable to the operator in 90 percent of the retrieval requests. Even dated information from an optical disk will appear on an operator's screen within 15 seconds of the query. This compares to a paper-based, best-case scenario where retrieval took up to 10 minutes -- when the documents had been accurately filed.

Improvements in indexing took a similar quantum leap. Under the old, paper-based system, a simple human error could make a file untraceable. UNISearch provides APD with 12 field indexes to make sure that queries are successfully satisfied. This "Quick Search" capability is in stark contrast to the previous system, where records were only available by case number.

Data accuracy has also improved. Previously, data entry was a back-end process with duplicate entry for mainframe updates. Now, using bar-coded forms, UNISearch image-enables the data entry. The images are indexed and the mainframe is simultaneously updated. There is no more back-end entry at all, and forms mapping and zooming minimize errors.