The approximately 18.3-mile drive from the Leland Police Department to the Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office in Bolivia takes about 30 minutes.
Until recently, officers made that one hour round trip every time they needed to process an arrest or see a magistrate, sometimes multiple times per shift.
The department’s recent investment in new technology and equipment is changing that, allowing officers to process arrests from the Leland police station, saving time and resources in the process.
As further evidence of technology advancing into more corners of life as a result of COVID-19, these new adjustments and advances in policing could become a regular part of smaller police agencies, especially in rural communities.
crime news:Carolina Beach woman convicted in 2017 adoption scheme captured 17 months after escaping
Read this:Man accused of kidnapping and rape in Fort Fisher now faces more charges
Three new pieces of technology, countless hours saved
Located at the rear of the Leland Police Department is their registration room, now complete with three new pieces of equipment: an intoximeter, an automated fingerprint identification system, and a video magistrate system.
According to Police Chief Jeremy Humphries, the addition of these items means that department officers and other law enforcement agencies operating in the area can fully process arrests in-house, rather than driving to the sheriff’s office and prison in Bolivia.
The toximeter allows officers to conduct breath tests in DWI cases from their headquarters, rather than in Bolivia. The automated fingerprint identification system allows officers to obtain fingerprints in cases that require them and upload them digitally to the state, instead of processing paper records.
The video magistrate system, he said, is perhaps the most important piece of equipment when it comes to saving officers time and city resources. A magistrate is a judicial officer who performs duties in both civil and criminal proceedings.
This system allows officers to appear before them for initial appearances with suspects, to obtain warrants, or to conduct other business.
“Our staff is definitely pleased with the impact the software has provided,” said Humphries. “It allows them to get back on the streets sooner rather than later.”
Before the equipment could be fully utilized around February of this year, officers would make an arrest, search for the suspect, begin internal paperwork, and then head to Bolivia. There, the suspect would once again be searched and more paperwork would be produced.
Then, after waiting in line behind other agencies, the officer and the arrested person appeared before a magistrate to establish the conditions of release. The process could take hours.
Now, the Leland Police are staying in town and heading to the police station where they process their suspect and appear before the magistrate via a secure video chat link.
Humphries said the new process is saving hours of staff time every day and providing cost-saving benefits when it comes to vehicle wear and gasoline, especially earlier this year when gas prices rose to nearly $5. per gallon
“It saves time and keeps the staff here within the municipal limits of Leland,” he said.
Lasting Impacts of COVID
Humphries said discussions about adding much of this technology had been ongoing for several years, with its installation complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic and supply chain issues.
When the department began exploring the idea of adding the automated fingerprint identification system, the COVID-19 pandemic forced them to consider how many people officers and arrestees were in contact with.
“So it really got us thinking and we started trying to find creative ways that we could still provide a service or do our job while trying to limit the amount of exposure to our own staff as well as staff and other people in other facilities. Humphries said.
Being able to provide the same services from its station in Leland, he said, limits that potential exposure. Humphries said that while these pieces of technology have been beneficial for the current situation, it’s not just a reactive solution to COVID-19.
More from Jamey Cross:Brunswick County man wins big with instant lottery ticket
Wilmington Police:Woman seriously injured after being hit by a train
“It’s not something that if COVID went away tomorrow, we would stop,” he said. “All of this equipment is stuff that we will continue to use.”
Humphries said there was some local cost for these systems, but the toximeter was provided by the North Carolina Division of Forensic Alcohol.
Benefiting other agencies
Humphries added that this equipment can be used by the North Carolina Highway Patrol and other law enforcement agencies in far north Brunswick County, and even some in Columbus County.
Particularly, he said, the intoxicant will be beneficial when those agencies have cases that require a breath test, they will be able to use Leland’s without having to drive further afield.
Humphries said this kind of technology could become more standard in smaller law enforcement agencies, particularly in rural counties. Since Leland installed the equipment, he said, two other agencies in the county have inquired about the benefits they’ve been seeing.
Those agencies, he said, are also considering adding similar teams to streamline their arrest processes.
Jamey Cross is the public safety reporter for StarNews. Contact her at [email protected] or send her a message on Twitter @jameybcross.