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(UPDATE) From the editor: DeKalb Sheriff’s Office making it harder to keep you informed

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(UPDATE) From the editor: DeKalb Sheriff’s Office making it harder to keep you informed

Jeff Mann, DeKalb County Sheriff
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Jeff Mann, DeKalb County Sheriff

UPDATE: There’s now a way to check the daily arrest log, according to the Sheriff’s Office. Users can type the year in the search bar and sort it by day, week, month or year. The booking photos are still not available, however.

Here is our original story …

The DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office sent out a press release today about a change in the way the office provides public information.

The Sheriff’s Office previously made arrest information available through its OJS website. Now all of that information is being transferred to a new system called Odyssey, a move that cost taxpayers $2.8 million The Sheriff’s Office says the switch will “streamline the flow of information” and reduce the amount of paper records the county produces.

But the press release omits two key pieces of information: Booking photos will no longer be available to the public without a request for this information and the new system does not allow the public to view daily arrest logs. The Sheriff’s Office says it is also removing booking photos from the Sheriff’s Office’s website.

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Odyssey is already being used by the county’s Clerk of Superior Court to give the public access to court records, like lawsuits. On that score, the system is an improvement over making trips to the courthouse, but in my experience not every record is available and it doesn’t always process payments for these records. Moving the jail records to this service is not an improvement from this user’s perspective, and makes it harder to access some important information.

With OJS, I could look at the arrest logs on any given day and tell you who had been arrested and for what reason. I would use this data to follow up and request additional information from our law enforcement agencies. Having access to the arrest log is important because – and this may shock you – law enforcement agencies do not always notify the public when a major crime occurs.

If you’ll recall, earlier this year a man was stabbed on a MARTA train at the Avondale station. MARTA did not make any public announcements about the incident, but it was recorded in the Sheriff’s Department’s arrest log on OJS. News agencies routinely check this information for crimes that occur that police departments might not want to publicize for various reasons.

Without access to the arrest log, we will no longer be able to tell you if a crime happened that no one else wants you to know about. What if an important public official – like Sheriff Jeffrey Mann – is arrested? Unless that information comes to light through a tip, the press won’t immediately know about it.

Decaturish has raised this concern with the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office and the office said it is looking into whether this feature can be restored. I ask the Sheriff’s Office to restore this feature quickly. It is an essential tool for all reporters covering DeKalb County and for the general public.

The mug shot issue is also problematic. State law gives a government agency up to three days to process a records request. Not being able to obtain a mug shot quickly could hinder our ability verify information by comparing booking photos with other records, like social media profiles. These photos are a matter of public record and the government should be making it easier to access, not harder.

The Sheriff’s Office made this decision without warning and with little input from the people who used this tool the most. As a website owner, I know that users are always frustrated by change. But this change removes some important features that kept the public informed. The Sheriff’s Office should work quickly to restore the public’s access to this vital information.

In the meantime, we will do our best to keep you apprised of what’s happening. All news tips can be emailed to editor@decaturish.com or you can call 404-542-2562. Anonymity is guaranteed.

Here is the full press release from DeKalb County:

(DECATUR, GA, August 14, 2017) – An almost unwieldy amount of data is involved in the 24-hour care and well-being of the more than 1,900 inmates of the DeKalb County Jail; the management of the million square-foot facility; and the security of the county’s courthouses, courtrooms, judges, and visitors.

Managing that data efficiently for the state’s largest single facility adult detention center has been a priority for DeKalb County Sheriff Jeffrey L. Mann.

“This month, we are implementing the Tyler Technologies Odyssey® solution,” says Sheriff Mann. “This new jail information management system fully integrates the criminal justice process in DeKalb County by unifying jail management data with court case management data from DeKalb County Courts. Not only does this streamline the flow of information but it moves us even closer to a paperless environment.”

At the DeKalb County Jail, systems installed 16 years ago are replaced with a customized version of the Tyler Technologies Odyssey solution that has successfully served other justice agencies nationwide. The project incorporates Odyssey Jail Manager™, which handles all aspects of inmate processing. Inmate information will flow seamlessly from the jail to the courts without duplicate data entry. Later this year, the project will implement SoftCode™ CivilServe, which allows for more efficiency in the processing of civil papers.

Through Tyler’s dataXchange™ application, the agency will also have immediate access to records and real-time information sharing across jurisdictions with other agencies using Odyssey.

The Odyssey solution is not new to DeKalb County. Debra DeBerry, DeKalb Clerk of Superior Court, implemented Odyssey Case Manager™ as its data solution in 2016. Since then, the public has been able to access court records on the internet using the DeKalb Online Judicial System (OJS), which referred users to the Odyssey portal for court information.

The new all-Odyssey site at https://ody.dekalbcountyga.gov will replace the OJS site. The site will give users access to both the DeKalb Courts case information and DeKalb Jail inmate information.  Access to Odyssey will be also available at other related agency websites.

“We’re excited about and congratulate the Sheriff’s Office for the impending implementation of Odyssey, thereby creating a truly integrated process and making our communities safer,” says DeBerry.

The DeKalb Sheriff’s Office contracted with Texas-based Tyler Technologies in 2016 to build its customized system at a cost of $2.8 million. Tyler’s Odyssey solution is being used successfully in more than 900 counties across 24 states, covering more than 100 million people.

“This new technology moves us light years ahead in jail database management,” says Sheriff Mann.  “The Odyssey solution represents an improvement in operating efficiencies and a much-needed enhancement to the services we provide to the citizens of our community.”

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