E-Charging and E-DWI's Save Time and Money for Minn. Police

Updated: 03/17/2013 2:25 PM KSTP.com By: Beth McDonough

A word of warning from police: there are extra patrols through the metro because of St. Patrick's Day weekend. 

And if police stop a suspected drunk driver, authorities can charge them with a crime much faster this year than they could last year.

Justice is much swifter because of a new program, called E-Charging.  Minnesota is the first and only state in the country using it. Authorities say it saves time and money.

As soon as someone is arrested, the clock starts ticking. Whether it's for drunk driving or other serious crimes, there's a crucial window of time - 36 hours to charge a suspect.

"You might potentially have a dangerous subject, sex offender, and if you can't get them charged you have to let them go," says Tom Miller with the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.

That's happened. And that's why the BCA, the state's top brass of law enforcement, crafted a hi-tech solution to act quick. Lakeville Police use the technology.

Officer Adam Stier heads out on patrol where he's made more than 80 arrests using the E-DWI and E-Charging systems. 

Instead of a traditional road trip across Dakota County, "we would have to drive to Hastings which is 25 minutes away," says Stier.

That's to push paperwork back and forth between the police station, the prosecutor's office and court. Agency computers share information, run a background check, review state laws and file charges with a swipe of an officer's fingerprint. Police don't leave the building.  It's a process that used to take hours or days, because of E-Charging, now it only takes minutes.

"It's a savings in money and it's also moving the criminal justice system faster," according to Chief Tom Vonhof of the Lakeville Police Department.

Carver County believes it's saved taxpayers about $100,000 dollars so far.

Lakeville can relate. The payback is in greater public safety. Less time in the office and more time out on the street, "They're paying for our services as police officers this allows us to get back out on the streets so we can answer their calls for service or be there to keep the streets safe," Stier said.

On average, the BCA believes officers gain an extra hour back on patrol for every stop they used to make. About half of the agencies in the state are using E-Charging or E-DWI, the rest should be online by 2014. The program is paid for by a federal grant and state money.