Interim booking center to increase safety, efficiency

August 1, 2014
Washington County correctional officer Sgt. Eli Chipps demonstrates how to use the fingerprinting machine in the new booking room at Washington County jail. The new fingerprinting equipment, called Livescan, allows electronic transfer of fingerprints to the police and FBI for quicker criminal history findings. - Photo courtesy of Washington County Jail

As of 5 p.m. Friday, a small room in the basement of Washington County jail is not only making the county safer, but allowing those in law enforcement to operate more efficiently.

Accessible only through a carport, the interim booking center will enable local police departments to bring offenders directly to the jail during evenings and weekends, eliminating the need to wait for hours until a magisterial district judge becomes available for arraignment.

“Police officers had to wait anywhere from two to four hours. They were basically babysitting,” Larry Garner, booking center coordinator, said. “Now, they can make arrests, complete the criminal complaint and affidavit and get back on the road.”

The interim booking center will complement the central booking center, which is on the second floor of the Family Court Center in the Washington County Courthouse. During weekday business hours, anyone who commits a crime will be arraigned at one of the magisterial district judges’ offices throughout the county, then brought to the central booking center for fingerprints and processing.

In the evenings and on weekends, police officers will take offenders straight to the interim booking center, where they will be arraigned by video during one of three set times, fingerprinted and processed.

“It will make the community safer, make the police safer and overall, make everyone more efficient,” Washington County President Judge Debbie O’Dell Seneca said.

O’Dell Seneca said the latest technology being used at the new booking center will also be beneficial. Called Livescan, the fingerprinting equipment allows for the electronic transfer of a person’s fingerprints to the state police and FBI. Within minutes, Garner said, the jail staff knows the person’s prior criminal history.

“They’ll have instant criminal history,” Garner said. “They’ll know what that person has done in all 50 states.”

Livescan also allows for an accurate scan of fingerprints. The system will show red if the scan was not complete. Garner said similar technology is available at the central booking center.

Garner said it cost $36,000 to purchase the equipment for the new booking center. The money came from fees assessed to criminal defendants.

Garner said there were no new hires to staff the center. Instead, Garner said two part-time positions were converted to full-time.

“The only thing this is costing the jail is their benefits,” he said.

Jail Warden John Temas said the new addition is a great step in the right direction. Temas, county commissioners and others still hope to create one central booking center. Funding and a location must be determined first.

“This is a great public service,” Temas said. “It’s been a long time coming.”

Francesca Sacco joined the Observer-Reporter as a staff writer in November 2013, and covers the Washington County Courthouse and education. Prior to working with the Observer-Reporter, Francesca was a staff writer with a Gannett paper in Ohio. She graduated from Point Park University with a dual bachelor’s degree in print and broadcast journalism.

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