Technology has drastically changed the criminal justice system in Dunn County, local criminal justice and law enforcement leaders said Saturday.
About 11 people attended a forum on Dunn County criminal justice reform in Menomonie Saturday.
Panelists included criminal justice workers from law enforcement, Dunn County Circuit Court and the Wisconsin Department of Corrections.
Video and audio technology has changed how the Menomonie Police Department equips its squad cars, keeps records and deals with citizen complaints, said Menomonie Police Chief Eric Atkinson.
The department’s squad cars have cameras, but all officers don’t wear body cameras. That’s due to the cost of purchasing the equipment and record-keeping, Atkinson said.
“To get the entire department equipped would be about $60-70,000, and an ongoing cost due to data maintenance according to (Wisconsin) open records law,” Atkinson said. “That could run anywhere from $20-50,000 a year, depending on how much data we produce.”
Police officers do wear microphones that record audio, and squad car cameras capture “almost everything we do,” Atkinson said.
Atkinson praised the squad car cameras, saying the video footage shows the department’s actions and reports are accurate. The cameras also help show department leaders if officers need more training, he said.
Menomonie officers do use body cameras while interviewing juveniles in custody, a requirement of state law.
“(Body cameras) do have pros and cons, but most of the time departments that have implemented them, have liked them,” Atkinson said. “The part they don’t like is the cost.”
The Menomonie Police Department is also using technology to map local incidents that law enforcement respond to, said the department’s crime prevention specialist Brenna Jasper.
For about three years, the department has uploaded certain data from its records to communitycrimemap.com, which puts a marker for each crime on a digital, interactive map.
People can choose to view crime data, from three years ago through the present day, on a map of the Menomonie area, Jasper said.
On the map, people can also choose to filter crime information to a specific location, find crimes from a certain date range or choose to see only certain types of crimes, from traffic incidents to thefts to assaults.
The crime map pulls data directly from the department’s records system, but has a three-day delay in importing, so crimes do not appear right away, Jasper said.
For most incidents, the map will tell users the block where the crime occurred, not the exact address. But for sensitive crimes like sexual assaults or homicides, the map won’t give a location.
The map gives the department transparency with the public, Jasper said.
“It lets the community know what’s going on, to make informed decisions. It also coincides with the transparency that’s necessary for law enforcement and government to have,” Jasper said.
Technology hasn’t only impacted local law enforcement. It has “completely changed how cases are prosecuted,” Dunn County District Attorney Andrea Nodolf said Saturday.
The three prosecutors in Nodolf’s office handle crimes from the 125 law enforcement officers in Dunn County, and each agency – from the Dunn County Sheriff’s Office to police offices in Boyceville and Elk Mound – uses different technology, Nodolf said.
Social media and personal devices have added to prosecutors’ and lawyers’ workloads, Nodolf said.
“When we have cases we prosecute, there used to be (just) reports,” Nodolf said. “Now we have several discs in additional to cell phone downloads and laptops … I have a case right now that (involves) 4,000 pages of Instagram messages.”
Panelists on Monday also discussed mental health treatment in the Dunn County Jail, diversion programs for low and medium-level offenders and new evidence-based programs for people on probation.
In addition to Atkinson and Nodolf, panelists included Criminal Justice Coordinator Sara Benedict, Wisconsin Department of Corrections Field Supervisor Melissa Buesgen, Wisconsin Department of Corrections Regional Chief Gena Jarr and Reentry Lead Peer Specialist with the Center for Independent Living of Western Wisconsin Jacki Bremer.
The Menomonie Police Department organized the event, along with the Dunn County Criminal Justice Collaborating Council, Dunn County District Attorney’s Office and the Wisconsin Department of Corrections.