If you’ve ever been in a car accident, you know the frustration of sometimes waiting weeks to get an official police report of the crash to help settle insurance claims. But a new software tool is helping law enforcement officials in Orlando, Fla., accelerate the process and get the information to citizens in a more timely fashion.

Called eCrash, the electronic automobile crash software is allowing officers to file reports from their in-car computers in just 20 minutes and make them accessible generally on the same day of an accident.

Previously, because reports were handwritten, officers needed to head back to a substation to write them, which could take upwards of 90 minutes each to complete — if uninterrupted. That delayed access to the information, often leading to a seven-to-10 day period before the report became available, according to Annemarie Esan, community service officer supervisor with the Orlando Police Department.

But with eCrash, which was originally developed by iyeTek, a software development company and now re-launched as LexisNexis eCrash, responding officers look up a person’s information and drag-and-drop that data into the electronic report. Officers can then also deposit icons of vehicles onto pre-programmed diagrams of every street intersection in Orlando.

Instead of spending time drawing up the scene, officers simply have to write a short narrative of what occurred, and submit the report, resulting in a much faster turnaround time.

The affected parties involved in the situation are given business cards with a Web address that leads to an online driver’s exchange system where basic details such as the names of the drivers, passengers and insurance companies are listed. That information can be passed along to insurance carriers in advance of the official crash report, helping speed the claims process along even further.

The change has been a positive one in the community. Esan said that complaints have gone down, primarily because officers now have to get reports in quickly, instead of waiting three or four days.

“By the end of the shift, they have the report, it’s ready and insurance companies can get a hold of it without faxing information and mailing their payment and waiting for snail mail,” she explained. “Everything is immediate.”

In addition to an increase in processing speed, the technology is also helping the Orlando PD spot fraud.

Esan said there are a lot of staged crashes in Orlando and by using the eCrash system, she can access the database, look up a name and if another city is also using eCrash, it will show if there are multiple accidents involving the same people in other locations.

“It’s nice, because if we look at a crash and say ‘it doesn’t seem right,’ we can go ahead and query them in the system and it’ll let us know ... if they’re there,” she said.

Electronic Evolution

The Orlando PD started using eCrash in Sept. 2010. Under the arrangement with iyeTek, use of the program is essentially free, according to Esan. The only up-front cost to the city was $21,000 for the development of a system interface between eCrash and the department’s database.

Instead of paying a fee to use the software, the Orlando PD charges $10 for each copy of a crash report and gives iyeTek $7 for each one that is purchased. The remaining $3 is revenue for the department, which Esan said gets put toward moving to other technology goals for the department, such as an e-citation system that they would eventually like to install.

Esan revealed the low-cost in moving to electronic reporting and not having the hassle of handing program updates and fixes was the main reason the Orlando PD went with the iyeTek solution. The software is entirely Web-based and the company takes care of all the maintenance.

“[Other agencies] have a different electronic program ... but they are a half-a-million dollars to purchase,” Esan explained. “So for us, the risk of wasting a bunch of money for something that might not work isn’t there.”

While implementing the actual software program wasn’t tough, Esan admitted the transition from paper-based work to electronic has been a challenge for much of the department, particularly for some of the elder statesmen.

“The older officers were a little resistant at first, because they are not used to this technology,” she recalled. “This is not what they signed up for 20 years ago and that’s the hardest part — getting used to the new way of doing things.”

Brian Heaton  |  Senior Writer

Brian Heaton is a senior writer for Government Technology. He primarily covers technology legislation and IT policy issues. Brian started his journalism career in 1998, covering sports and fitness for two trade publications based in Long Island, N.Y. He's also a member of the Professional Bowlers Association, and competes in regional tournaments throughout Northern California and Nevada.