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Funds for Franklin County central booking system delayed

March 24, 2003|by RICHARD BELISLE

waynesboro@herald-mail.com

The leader of an effort to bring a central booking system to Franklin County said the county has delayed seeking money for the project until a site is found.

Central booking, is a high-tech electronic identification facility where police drop off criminal suspects for processing, incarceration and/or release.

District Justice Larry Meminger of Chambersburg, chairman of the committee leading the central booking effort, said the county had planned to apply for a grant last week to pay part of the costs but had to drop the idea while the search for a site continues.

One location considered was the Franklin County Prison on Franklin Farm Road, but it's overcrowded and may be in line for replacement in the next few years, Meminger said.

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Another choice, as an interim site, is the Franklin County Sheriff's Department in the County Courthouse in downtown Chambersburg. Meminger said while that site poses some traffic and security problems it could still work.

Once a person is arrested on a criminal charge, he or she is dropped off at central booking and handed over to the staff there for processing, said Chris Braun, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association in Harrisburg, Pa. The arresting officer is then free to go back on patrol.

Once inside, the suspect is fingerprinted on a sophisticated electronic system that sends the prints to the Pennsylvania State Police's Automated Fingerprint Identification System, or AFIS. The system identifies the suspect even if he gives a false name to arresting officers.

The system also determines if the suspect is wanted anywhere else because the prints end up at the FBI fingerprint lab in Parkersburg, W.Va. The information is returned to the local central booking facility in less than an hour, Braun said.

A district justice arraigns the suspect on site, either in person or through a prison-based video camera, and decides if incarceration is warranted.

Braun said the police chiefs association has about $800,000 in grant money available for counties to use for central booking facilities.

Meminger said Franklin County was going to apply for $250,000. He estimates it would cost about $400,000 to set up a central booking facility, including staff, equipment and space in Franklin County.

The rest of the money would come from court costs paid to district justice offices in the county. The county collected $306,000 last year in court costs, Meminger said.

He said the idea of a central booking system is winning favor around the county among the municipalities and police departments.

Last week the Washington Township Supervisors expressed their support for the idea.

In a letter to Braun, Washington Township Administrator Michael Christopher said, "Once the system is up and running, our police department will realize significant time savings with booking as well as immediate access to the criminal history of the subjects which we currently do not have available to us."

Chief Barry Keller of the Washington Township Police Department said in a letter to Braun that central booking "would standardize the information collected by all police departments in the county and should lead to a countywide information sharing network."

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