Auto Alert Systems: Breaking the Barriers

07/28/2015
By G.F. Guercio, Contributing Editor



Two companies have made headway on the automated notification alert system front. The company Appriss began to chip away at the information barrier when its two founders worked with Jefferson County, Kentucky, government officials to develop the nation's first automated victim information and notification system after the 1993 murder of Mary Byron by her former boyfriend and attacker.
They unveiled VINE® (Victim Information and Notification Everyday) in Jefferson County exactly one year after Mary's murder. Today Appriss adds modules to VINE to allow other justice system personnel to access location of individuals or remind personnel involved of upcoming court appearances.
 
Similarly, eCourtDate.com, the breakthrough idea of Florida Bail Bondsman Kahlil Welsh in 2009, has aided courts by curtailing the FTA (Failure to Appear) rate of those using its system. Currently entrenched in the market and hinging on its successful use by bail bondsman, eCourtDate.com is introducing its reminder system to court administrators and probation officials.
 
Currently, court reminder systems in the U.S. are limited to mail or phone call as noted by National Center for State Courts (NCSC) Court Technology Bulletin blogger James E. McMillan posted June of last year. Tech-savvy kudos goes to the nations of Qatar and Australia as cited in Margaret Hagan’s Law Design Tech blog (www.openlawlab.com) posted last April as Qatar began a Court Hearing SMS reminder service and Australia was noted with a similar pilot program begun in 2012.
 
Mobile Alerts
The auto alert capabilities embraced by Appriss and eCourtDate.com utilize the information and technology intrinsic to our computerized community to provide automated notification of appearances and releases through an iconic device, more widely known as a cell phone.
 
“Most people have a smart phone today or access to a phone that can provide texting and alerts,” says Karen Keck, VP, Marketing + Communications, Appriss. VINEmobile has smart phone apps for Apple and Android.  “Victims are notified of changes in status so they can make safety plans and the criminal justice industry is alerted to become more efficient with day-to-day operations,” she says. “As more and more people depend on their personal phones for calls, texting, alerts and emails, we have to connect with people via the method that works best for them.
“We offer a diverse suite of state-of-the-art technology solutions that support our mission of keeping communities safe and informed,” Keck furthers. “The biggest challenges in the public safety industry are connecting the data points from various sources and providing all of that information to one source—the various solutions we provide.  Our systems, services and apps are doing that across the country in highly secured environments.”
 
“Our products derive from four fundamental data areas, offender status information is one of them and has several applications.  We are directly connected to thousands of law enforcement agencies and courts across the U.S. ensuring the information we provide through our systems, services and apps is real-time and accurate.”
The VINE Add-on Modules are noted to provide law enforcement, advocates and other agencies with materials to help educate victims about the services provided and how to take advantage of the information and notifications offered. Live operators around-the-clock answer questions and assist victims in the registration process, and a dedicated training staff informs law enforcement and agency staff how to effectively use the VINE system and its features.
 
Recognizing that sometimes a suspect can be booked into a system and released a short time later, the system automates this notification process and can alert numerous individuals simultaneously. Also since court processes and procedures can be confusing, automated notifications keep victims informed about upcoming hearing locations, times, court information and more. Appriss reports that this victim service solution is also a powerful tool that can remind court staff, personnel and law enforcement officers of upcoming court appearances.
 
The VINE System provides victims and agency staff with continuous access to vital information regarding offenders and their custody status. This service is available day or night, to provide assurance to victims that a particular offender remains in custody.
 
Days, months and years can pass between an offender's incarceration and release. VINE informs victims immediately when an offender is released back into the public. Supervising officers can also be informed if a parolee is booked into a jail or prison system.
 
Additionally, Court systems and their advocates are often overwhelmed by thousands of cases every year. The VINE COURT service enables the expedited location of people.  Appriss points to reports from agencies and court administrators who have saved tens of thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours, per person, per year after their data and information were connected.
 
Quick Text of Court Dates
 
It’s all about the connection, according to eCourtDate.com founder Kahlil Welsh who connected the dots to see how to connect defendants to their court dates for a lower FTA rate. “As a bail bondsman in Orlando, Florida, for 20 years, I began realizing the issue of missing a court date 90 percent of the time was due to not receiving the notice; they moved, their family got it, or someone thought it was junk mail. At the same time I was realizing this, I was working on a difficult file and I found out they just didn’t receive the notice. Then I received an irrelevant text on my phone and I thought, ‘If this client got it on text, he would have not gotten arrested, missed work and lost his job,” he relates. “I contacted developers, found a domain name and reduced failure to appear by 75 percent.”
 
He says they’ve had good feedback. “When the court sends out a document it considers it mailed and received–even if it isn’t. We send notices in three different forms: text, email and cell [call]. It has proven to be very efficient. We are currently looking to get into smaller courthouses to prove its effectiveness.”
 
Welsh explains the system: “Headquartered in Orlando, Florida, eCourtDate.com operates a Court Date Notification Service that makes notifying criminal defendant clients accurate and efficient. Currently, Bail Bond Agencies use the eCourtDate platform to easily send court date reminders to their customers through voice mail, email, and text message.” He adds, “Court Clerks are our next potential user base as we feel that the benefits to larger organizations would be exponentially greater. Courthouses can drastically reduce their failure to appear rates.”
 
Welsh reviews the challenges to keeping a court date. “Address changes: when a defendant changes their address and fails to notify the bonding company and/or the courts, often times the mail is returned undeliverable causing a breakdown in communication which results in a missed court appearance and a warrant being issued by the judge.”
 
He continues. “Lost notices: if the notice is successfully delivered and received by the correct recipient, it is often put to the side to be reviewed at a later date. Lost in the mix of our busy lives the paper notice becomes a part of our desktop landscape; a white envelope that we plan on getting to someday—oftentimes the day or week after the mandatory court appearance.”
 
And last but not least, he says, “Forgetful minds: with our busy lifestyles and hectic schedules, it just makes sense that a friendly reminder on your cell phone, or an email in your inbox can reduce the stress and anxiety caused by mandatory appearances at court cases.”
 
“The fact that people always have their phones with them, seldom ever change their email address and listen to their voice mail, is a key reason for businesses and the courts to capitalize on the mobile medium,” he contends. “ECourtDate.com sends the notices via a text message, voice mail and email when a court date has been scheduled. The system is cloud based and works on any computer with an Internet connection. There is no hardware to buy and no software to install,” he says, adding, “Electronic notification is extremely effective. People do not mind automated reminder text messages, emails or voicemail, as they are less intrusive. Voicemail, text messages and email is very standard across the spectrum, so clients adapt quickly. Other applications of the service include, but are not limited to, Probation, Jury and appointment reminders.”
 
Whether connecting the information of defendants and court dates for a lower FTA rate, or connecting offender data for victims, courts and related agencies, automated notification systems seize the power of communication via cell phones, and break the justice system’s incommunicable barrier.
 
For more information:
Appriss, 1.866.APPRISS, appriss.com
Ecourtdate.com,  1.877.889.4147, www.ecourtdate.com, info@ecourtdate.com
 

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