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March 2012

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This article is in the news archives --- for current news go to the Third Branch News.


Probation and Pretrial Services Tool Puts Clients on the Map

Federal Probation and Pretrial Services officers have a new tool to help them enhance community safety and manage cases more efficiently. It's called the Client Mapping Application for Probation and Pretrial Services, and it uses Google Maps to give officers a visual representation of the cases in their areas.

The expression, 'all over the map' usually describes a number of different pieces of information widely scattered—like the multiple defendants/offenders (or "clients") under supervision that must be tracked by probation or pretrial services officers. Now, a new software application tames the map. The Probation and Pretrial Services Client Mapping Application (Version 1.0), for use by federal probation and pretrial services offices, is slated to roll out at the end of March.

The client mapping application is part of the Probation and Pretrial Services Automated Case Tracking System (PACTS). Its mapping feature is familiar to anyone who has used online maps to pinpoint and get directions to a location. But the application does more than just give probation and pretrial services officers driving directions

Matt Rowland, Acting Assistant Director of the Office of Probation and Pretrial Services, notes that all sorts of case information can now be displayed geographically. For example, the application can highlight on a map which offenders have been convicted of certain types of offenses, which clients are subject to a given type of supervision condition, and display offenders by the degree of risk they present for recidivism. Supervisors can use the map when assigning new cases and take into account both the nature of the case and the location of the officer's existing cases. Districts, county lines, and even zip codes can be highlighted on the map, with offenders' locations superimposed.

The application gives officers a street level view of any location a client might give as his or her home address. That makes it easier for a supervising officer to scan the neighborhood for identifying landmarks—and ask questions that verify the offender actually resides at the location.

The client mapping application also works with current Blackberry devices to let officers stand at a location, such as an offender's home address, and get the GPS coordinates—the latitude and longitude. The coordinates are written back to the PACTS database and linked to information about the offender.

The mapping application may increase officer safety. Officers can see if a colleague has a client in the vicinity and arrange to conduct field work together to promote safety and add a second set of eyes to the case. The application optimizes the travel route of two officers traveling together, showing the best route for home visits by both officers. The application also launches an application to email the itinerary to a colleague or supervisor, letting them know where officers will be traveling, which aids communication in the case of an emergency.

Future functionality is planned that will allow the application to work on any mobile device, and also locate nearby clinics and halfway houses, proximity to schools, treatment centers, sheriffs offices, and even street closures. Also, in a future version, the client mapping application will help officers with the requisite travel forms, automatically filling in the log of where visits were made, who was visited, and other information.

For officers, the mapping application will be a valuable planning tool because,  "it helps officers make more home visits in less time and be better prepared for them," said Rowland.