IN CRIME movies, a policeman's work is usually done when the culprit is caught and arrested. In real life though, the arresting officer still faces a lot of paperwork and court time. The Rivlin Commission estimates that the city pays over $7 million a year in overtime to law enforcement officers in connection with these chores. Some expenses are unavoidable. The prisoner must be brought to the station house or central cell-block and supervised through the booking process. Essential paperwork must be completed, and arresting officers must respond when called upon to give testimony at trial. But some time and millions of dollars could be saved, says the commission, by a few changes in procedure.
In almost every major city, the police are authorized to issue summonses -- like tickets -- to people accused of minor offenses. The offender doesn't have to be arrested or detained, and the policeman doesn't have to drop everything and begin the paperwork process. Court appearances can be scheduled during the working day, and a lot of inconvenience can be avoided. Chief Judge Fred Ugast of the D.C. Superior Court says the ticketing option hasn't been used here but is worth exploring.
The Rivlin Commission also recommends a change in a process called "papering." Now, after a suspect is booked, the arresting officer must go to the U.S. Attorney's office to prepare papers for the prosecutors. At one time, attorneys were available until 9 p.m., but now no papering is done after regular working hours, which means most officers must return the following day -- usually on overtime -- to complete this task. Because so many arrests are made at night, it would be more efficient if facilities for papering were provided until midnight or even 2 a.m. so that the job could be done during the arresting officer's shift. Later in the process, the commission suggests, time and money could be saved by arranging to call off-duty police at home for court appearances rather than have them waiting around a courtroom for hours at a time. Another cost-saver would be a permanent police unit assigned to the prosecutors' office. Trained officers could relieve the regular force of many chores usually done after hours.
Does the District need a night court? Judge Ugast says he can see instances in which such a facility would be more convenient for the public -- for traffic adjudications, for example -- but it would do nothing to reduce police overtime because officers are not now required, as they are in some cities, to be present during arraignments. He's willing to explore all the Rivlin recommendations, however, and is already working with a Dixon transition team to evaluate proposals aimed at streamlining police overtime incurred in connection with court obligations.