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Published: Thursday, 5/29/2003

Lima offers plan to email police reports

LIMA, Ohio - You won't have to wait at the counter of the Lima Police Department records division to get an accident report any more.

And no longer will there be a need to pick up police incident reports during certain hours on certain days.

Now, residents interested in getting police reports just have to call or e-mail their request and wait for an electronic reply.

With a new document imaging storage system in place, police officials are offering to e-mail reports to those residents who request them. The system, purchased late last year, saves time for those in the records department and allows the department to disseminate the reports for free.

And while other departments have e-mailed reports before, Lt. Mel Salsbury said he's not sure of any others that do it regularly.

“The advantage to the public is that we won't charge them for an e-mail. The benefit to us is that it is a time savings,” Lieutenant Salsbury said, adding that it costs 15 cents a page to have a report copied or faxed. “I expect that eventually the vast majority of our reports will be sent out this way.”

The department began seeking out a new system last year when officials realized that its older computer network needed expensive updating. Working with a Toledo-based company, the department settled on a system costing $8,000 that allowed department personnel to scan in all incident and accident reports to be stored. The reports can then be called up when there is a request.

To date, all reports dating back to October, 2002, have been entered into the system and more are on the way.

Lieutenant Salsbury said that requests for reports can be made at any time and personnel will try to have them sent via e-mail within three days, minus the nonpublic information that is automatically redacted. The department's goal is to have all reports scanned in and available by the end of business hours the following day.

The lieutenant said the department is particularly excited about the system because it is only the beginning.

“I know there are some departments who have accident reports on their Web pages; we don't have that,” he said. “I can see us in the future putting accident reports on the Web site, but we have no plans for doing that at this point.”

Police departments in larger cities like Toledo and Columbus have had crash reports available on the Web for more than a year.

Toledo Lt. Mel Stachura, the department's technical services director, said the city's next goal is to put all incident reports - including robberies and violent crimes - online. That will occur, he said, once officers begin typing in their reports in computers installed in their patrol cars, some time this fall.

By waiting until officers begin using the computers, the department will avoid the extra work of having to input reports in a fashion that residents can access, even if they don't have an incident report number.

“We are doing a lot of things that are cutting-edge,” Lieutenant Stachura said. “We want to make it as paperless as possible and as user-friendly as possible.”

Of course, those in either city who prefer to get reports the old-fashioned way can always come to the department and make a request.

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