Digitizing Documents For Increased Security

How a paperless solution streamlined and helped secure one police department’s workflow

Anyone involved in law enforcement knows how crucial secure document management is to efficiency across all departments. Constantly growing volumes of unorganized court records, witness statements and identification documents can overrun even the largest storerooms, increasing the risk of security problems and slowing access to important files. Inefficient and unsafe document management shouldn’t hinder any step of the law enforcement process.

Recently, one mid-sized police department grew weary of the security gaps and lack of efficiency its own physical records provided. The employees were frustrated that content was hard to find and easily overlooked. They were concerned that important decisions were being made without full knowledge of the facts. Officers were worried about the overall safety of the paper files and the possibility that those files might be misplaced or fall into the wrong hands.

The police force had been operating under a “print to file” mentality that was embedded within the organization. The records spanned nearly 40 unorganized feet of shelf space, including a separate building across the county that often had to be accessed for documents. A sizable portion of the archives had been unnecessarily printed for wet signature and then filed along with other hard copy documents, most of which were in direct relation to criminal justice files. To have these vital documents stored in an unorganized fashion was unacceptable to the department’s dedication to security.

The police department decided to organize a focus group to form a solution and determine by what percentage its physical records could be reduced. Several subject matter experts and key users within the force were organized and instructed to bring samples of common files from their unit’s archives. The department sampled the records and applied the criteria for destruction or holding for each category it had previously agreed upon. It determined it was possible to eliminate 60 to 70 percent of the paper held in its storerooms.

Digitizing Documents

After reviewing a range of potential solutions, the force decided to implement a one-month trial of EzeScan, an Ambir Technology solution to batch scanning and document management. During the trial, officers would begin to upload case files and other important documents to HP TRIM, the department’s electronic document record management solution (EDRMS). EzeScan is compatible with many commonly used backend storage systems, which eliminates the need for many organizations to start from scratch with a new EDRMS.

Digitizing an entire archive’s worth of documents would be a daunting task for any organization, but this case was made even more overwhelming by the department’s previous negative experience with scanning. In past attempts to outsource its digitization, the results were disappointing. The employees to whom the files mattered most discovered myriad problems, including:

  • Records were sent off-site, so they had no way to track what had or had not been scanned;
  • Records were often misfiled with disparate documents when they were returned to the department;
  • Image quality of the scans was poor, and original records still had to be referenced.

These problems left many employees wary of digitizing records and hesitant to repeat the seemingly frustrating process. But the security risks involved with loose paper documents, along with the increasingly bloated shelves that housed them, soon outweighed those worries.

One pioneering department within the organization began to upload case files to its backend storage system using EzeScan. This allowed other departments to see just how simple the process was. With the system, the storage parameters can be easily set with an intuitive interface, eliminating the need for costly on-site installation technicians other batch scanning solutions require. Complex scripting was replaced with simple dropdown menus. And the operator was required to learn only a few basic commands. In short, a tailor-made solution was created specifically for the department, by the department.

As an integrated program, EzeScan lets users build answers to their document management challenges from the ground up. More specifically, users pay only for the modules that specifically help them. There also aren’t any bothersome click charge fees associated with EzeScan; such fees actually require payment for each document scanned.

Dispelling Loose-leaf Disorder

During scanning at the police department, multiple metadata fields—which govern how the documents are stored within the EDRMS—were applied simultaneously during uploading. Documents were categorized by form classification via barcodes. Blank pages were deleted automatically and separator pages were inserted where needed. Optical character recognition (OCR) functionality allowed for text-searchable PDF creation and the indexing of documents for keyword search. With OCR, authorized users can search for and access documents by words and terms contained within documents but not specified in metadata.

Scans emerged crisp, easy-to-read and organized to the exact parameters the police force had set. For authorized users, the documents were easy to find via search or barcode. It was refreshing for the department to realize it would now be able to make important decisions with all of the pertinent information. And perhaps most importantly, the danger involved with storing important physical records was virtually eliminated. Besides the streamlining to the retrieval process and increased security, the records storeroom was also transformed. The endlessly stacked boxes and loose-leaf disorder were replaced with clean shelves and peace of mind.

This top-to-bottom usefulness also applied to other areas of the police force, including support areas such as the pensions department, which began to convert paper records to digital files. In an area like pensions, where constant upkeep of records is crucial, the ability to append pages to digital records becomes invaluable. Documents in the pensions department also routinely need to be stored for two or more years with minimal viewing, so keeping them digitally reduces the chance of security problems and unwanted clutter.

After the successful trial, two more units within the department then installed EzeScan to digitize and store their own documents. Because of the ease of use and quick learning curve, one of the departments even took on the responsibility of scanning the documents of three other units. Following that, 22 additional units within the department declared a business requirement for scanning and electronic document records management as a direct result of the trial. Their reasons cited for implementing the system included:

  • Storing records in paper format and retrieving them later is costly, unreliable and unsustainable;
  • Efficiency and confidence in security was better achieved by transferring documents electronically across the organization, rather than manually;
  • Auditing, version control and tracking of documents are routinely solved by digitizing through EzeScan.

Following the adoption across the other departments, the force’s crime unit also embraced the solution for batch scanning. It too began digitally storing case files previously held within the archives. With buy-in from such a high-profile part of the organization, many employees’ concerns about the need to keep physical documents were quickly diminished. The old inherent fear of disposing of hard copy records “in case they’re needed” was put to rest, giving other departments the confidence to sort through, scan and dispose of hard records. They now knew that once scanned, the documents could be tightly secured against unauthorized viewing and easily retrieved by the correct parties.

Efficient Dispatch

In the end, there has been widespread recognition of the advantages of digitization of paper records in both the operations and support functions within the police department. Scanning records reduces the demand for storage space, enables rapid retrieval and significantly increases overall document security, given the fact that the paper records can be immediately destroyed after digitization. The police force retains complete control of the records and is able to view and make use of the content of the records on demand.

As far as concerns the department had regarding scanning—including organizational difficulties and lack of control—those were replaced with a simplified interface and easy quality assurance, which include the ability to rotate, crop, delete, append or insert pages. Because EzeScan is easily installed with no need for scripting, contains no click charges and is compatible with many storage databases, it puts users in control to best manage their important documents safely and efficiently.

This article originally appeared in the February 2012 issue of Security Today.

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