Paperless Training Records Management

By Culver, Ken | Corrections Today, December 2005 | Go to article overview

Paperless Training Records Management


Culver, Ken, Corrections Today


Files. Lots and lots of files. Picture any training office and chances are cabinets full of thick manila folders comes to mind. Even in modern detention systems that boast touch-screen controls and state-of-the-art wireless communications, there is still a reluctance to move away from hard-copy training files. In San Diego County, however, those days are over.

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The San Diego County Sheriff's Department's Detention Training Unit recently became the first of its kind in California to transition to a paperless training management system. It was not the product of some high-tech software developer, but rather the vision of a few talented employees who thought of a better way to do business.

THE STARTING POINT

In 2003, the San Diego County Sheriff's Department launched a pilot project to establish its own Detention Training Unit within the Detentions Bureau. That unit--no longer under the umbrella of Human Resources--would have to set up its own training records and ensure compliance with the state's continuing training requirements. The job came with a small staff, comprising just one sergeant, four deputies and no clerks. It also came with the customary bank of cabinets filled with training folders and was supported in a very small measure by an old in-house database application. The DOS-based program ran on a single stand-alone personal computer and was only intended to handle current-year information. It was necessary to "zero out" the data at the end of each year in order to begin tracking information for the new year. The program was neither supported nor backed up by data-processing staff. In other words, the antiquated program was just one hiccup away from a catastrophic failure, while providing very little utility to the staff.

Every step in the training process required action from the training deputies. Scheduling classes, compiling rosters, printing certificates and updating individual training files were all time-consuming manual tasks. Even entering data into the old database cost time, rather than saving it. With more than 1,000 detention and court services employees to track, the enormity of the job for this small group becomes readily apparent.

THE VISION

An idea was formed in the Detention Training Unit to develop a database that would eliminate most of these repetitive tasks, while adding features not previously available to department employees. Some of the desired features included:

* Paperless files -- Scan the existing files, and create any new records in a paperless environment;

* Record integration -- When any record is created or edited, all related files should be updated simultaneously;

* Network accessibility -- The system should reside on a network server, where authorized users are able to schedule routine training attendance and view training records from work sites across the county; and

* Cost-effectiveness -- In lean budget times, any new system would have to be affordable and provide maximum "bang for the buck."

THE PROJECT

With those ideas in mind, the detention training team began to design the look and feel of the new system. Curt Summer of the San Diego County Sheriff's Data Services Division--a former detentions deputy--was brought in to help with the technical aspects of the project. Working together, the team designed and tested features it wanted in the application. At the same time, plans were made to convert all existing training records to electronic images for storage in the system. The decision was made to scan the documents into Adobe Acrobat (.pdf) files, and create all new paperless files using the same format. Using a high-speed scanner, more than 1,000 individual training files were imaged in just over one week. Files that previously filled several file cabinets could now fit on a standard compact disk. With that portion of the conversion complete, it was time to cut over to the new system.

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