I recently had the pleasure to speak with Michael Fermin, the Chief Assistant District Attorney for San Bernardino County, about a new solution they implemented to help their staff do their jobs even more effectively. I encourage you to watch the short video, which provides a great overview of how this system has benefited their office.
San Bernardino County is the largest county in the United States, covering 20,000 square miles with a population of over 2 million people. Located in the southern portion of the state of California, it has well-known cities such as Joshua Tree (famous for its Joshua Tree National Park and beautiful sunrises), as well as the city of San Bernardino, which lies along Route 66—one of the most iconic roads in the country. However, populated geographies have their challenges. Given that the United States Department of Justice has established the statistical relationship between population size and crime rate,1 it’s not surprising that the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s (DA) office has its work cut out for them.
The San Bernardino County DA office has three large offices, which are spread out geographically and manage 65,000 offender cases per year.
The challenge ahead
Michael Fermin had attended a Microsoft Convergence conference and listened intently as Satya Nadella spoke about how every business should be looking at how it can transform through data. He took this seriously. He saw how his organization changed hands (which is the nature of government), but he knew the office needed to find a way for case data and their associated learnings, to live on into perpetuity. He knew there was an opportunity to optimize workflows and make people’s jobs easier through better access to information. His goal was to pursue a digital transformation strategy that would digitize paper-based processes and move the office to a modern software platform that could evolve with their changing needs.
The challenge that their DA’s office was facing was that their 26-year-old system wasn’t helping them make decisions or evaluate cases—it was very paper-driven and wasn’t keeping up with their organization’s growth and the ever-changing California justice system. They needed a solution that would help their various unique functions including helping their lawyers, their Bureau of Victim Services, the Bureau of Investigation, and all their support teams.
In evaluating systems, they saw that a purpose-built out-of-the-box solution wasn’t even as sophisticated as their 20-plus-year-old system. They also tested a customer relationship management (CRM) web-based platform in one area of their organization but realized that the customization options were limited. They needed a solution that would scale.
Collaborating to develop a solution
The DA’s office, as with any government office, has limited resources. As the public prosecutor for the county, they needed to streamline the system of reviewing and prosecuting offenders as effectively as they could, as well as assisting victims of crime. This is called case management.
The solution? The Microsoft team developed a new Case Management System based on Microsoft Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement that receives incident reports from law enforcement partners, assists the DA to file charges with the courts, and tracks the cases to closure. The solution is built on Microsoft Dynamics 365, Microsoft Power Apps, Microsoft Power Portal, Microsoft Power Automate, Microsoft Power BI, Microsoft SharePoint, and the Azure Government Cloud. The application works with third-party software for records management, document generation and automation, court case management, and text messages to law enforcement for upcoming court appearances.
“The system gives greater flexibility to the individual, based on their function, to more effectively do their job.”—Michael Fermin, Chief Assistant District Attorney, San Bernardino County.
The multi-platform system can be used with a tablet, smartphone, or laptop anywhere with an internet connection. With built-in security, it provides the following functionality:
- Tracks cases from initial submission through appeal.
- Receives police reports electronically.
- Increased efficiency and reliability in matching individuals to their records.
- Eliminates costly paper submissions by electronically filing court documents and e-Discovery including real-time status updates.
- Electronic delivery of police reports within fifteen minutes after filing charges with the court.
- Enhanced communications with law enforcement including electronic subpoenas, text notifications, and real-time case updates through the law enforcement portal.
“The beauty of going with Microsoft is they listened, they spent the time to understand what we did, how we did it, and they helped us challenge ourselves to figure out better ways to do things in light of the new technology that exists.”—Michael Fermin, Chief Assistant District Attorney, San Bernardino County.
A flexible system for the future
With this system, their lawyers now more easily conduct the initial filing as well as a review of cases. It allows their clerks to promulgate data to the courts through electronic filing and electronic subpoenas including text notifications to law enforcement partners if they are needed in court. And whereas before they would have to fill out forms in triplicate for the Bureau of Investigation as to how their services were needed, now through their system (called STAR TNG), all requests are made electronically.
For their lawyers, they can see the status of their cases and look back at prior cases and prior police reports, all of which help them with decision-making. Whereas in the past, materials that needed to be handed over to the defense would be copied and provided to defense representatives, sometimes taking days or a week, with portals, prosecuting lawyers can now access materials marked for discovery 15 minutes after the case is filed.
In addition, Power BI helps the DA’s office drill-down and see data in a multidimensional aspect. For example, they can now see that even though a lawyer might not be prosecuting as many cases as their peers, it can show that they are prosecuting more complex cases. This helps with determining staffing models as well as providing the data to show that more staff are needed.
“The system is malleable enough to change as times change and as the environment changes.”—Michael Fermin, Chief Assistant District Attorney, San Bernardino County.
With the new legislature and new environments, Michael recognizes that change is a constant part of their structure, but with the flexibility of their new cloud-based system, he knows that it and Microsoft will change with them.
Visit the Microsoft for Public Safety and Justice website to stay up to date on Microsoft’s global approach to public safety and justice.