Thursday, September 10, 2009

iPods for Bailiffs?

Earlier this year, while working on a courthouse project, our NCSC team had a discussion about technology for an essential courthouse employee, the Bailiff.  Now the Bailiff position is one that is critical for the orderly operation of the courtroom and a vital part of the judge’s team.  But, the Bailiff’s job does not seem to have been impacted by technology advances.  So that got us thinking, what kind of technology device does a Bailiff need other than perhaps a Taser?  Our answers were:

1.    A device that is small and light partially so that it cannot become a weapon
2.    Battery power for a full work day
3.    Wireless communications WiFi and/or cellular connection
4.    Capable of  quiet operation so as to not disturb the courtroom
5.    An easy user interface

The result that we concluded from this short but demanding specification list was that either an Apple iPod Touch or an Apple iPhone could be an answer.  And while we realize that there are other touch screen portable devices that available at this time, for sake of this discussion let’s use these two devices as the examples.

But before we get started, please note that the following scenarios pretty much requires a secure wireless WiFi network meaning that the network passwords are enabled and the data traffic is encrypted be installed throughout the courthouse.  Many courthouses have or are already implementing WiFi and we expect that it will be close to universal in the next few years.

The first and most obvious use of the iPod type system would be for quiet communications.  The iPod would allow the judge or judicial assistant to exchange messages via e-mail or some version of text messaging.  Since there is no keyboard on the iPod, the Bailiff’s typing on the touch-screen would not be audible to the courtroom. This preserves the decorum of the courtroom and allows seamless communication with the Bailiff wherever they are in the courthouse.

A second possible use for the Bailiff’s iPod would be to notify the courtroom of the “queue” of defendants or parties who are ready for the judge.  For criminal matters the Bailiffs may work with the detention officers as to which defendants are ready to be brought to the courtroom.  Bailiffs also check with persons appearing at the courtroom as to the reason for their appearance. I am often rightly questioned when observing courtroom operations as to my presence.  This allows Bailiffs to communicate the attendance to the court.  We have seen this type of activity in the courtroom corridors before a court session.  A wireless device that lists persons expected for that session would facilitate the check-in process with the court in and out of the courtroom.

A third possible use for a Bailiff’s handheld system could be as a detained defendant locator system.  The goal of this function is to simply learn where detained defendants are located in the courthouse.  In large courthouses there are many holding areas and persons are placed wherever practical.  With a portable iPod Touch system there are a myriad of methods that a court could implement to keep track of detained persons and notify Bailiff’s quietly as to their location and status.  A simple approach would be that defendant locations could be e-mailed/text messaged to all Bailiffs.  But a more sophisticated approach would be to create a web page type application that everyone could see via the browser.  This system could potentially be automatically updated from the iPod’s touch screen or via bar code – another article on this in the future.

A fourth possible application for the Bailiff’s iPod would be to view the security video system output.  As more security video systems convert to digital IP based computer format, that output could be viewed by the Bailiff via the WiFi network again, with proper security.  This provides an additional level of personal physical security since the Bailiff could visually check the holding area before entering.  It would also allow Bailiffs to monitor the courtroom and corridors as needed/desired.

A fifth possible application would be to allow some secure doors to be opened via the iPod.  For example, by combining the security video output and electronic door control, a Bailiff could be notified on their iPod if say an attorney calls to be admitted to the secure judge’s chambers area.

Sixth, the Bailiff could carry photos of wanted or dangerous persons on their iPod for reference.  If as is expected this winter, the iPod gains a camera capability they could also use it to take a photo of a “person of interest” to send to local law enforcement for research. 

Last, a quick Google search found that an iPod Touch referred to as iTouch in the following message has already been used for school security:

"I worked for a school district that issued the iTouch to each officer. They came equipped with each student from the officers school information. Schedule, locker number, picture, parents name, address, phone number etc. In addition all departmental emails could be received immediately. Next year the iTouches are due to be online with cameras throughout the district." (retrieved from )
In conclusion, the proposed iPod based system would likely not replace a police band radio that many Bailiffs are equipped. But we believe that it provides some interesting additional possibilities.  But we have almost always found that when we think we have thought of something original here at the NCSC, someone in the courts has already done it.  If so, please let us share your story with here at the Court Tech Bulletin.  And we’re looking forward to seeing the hi-tech Bailiff’s in the courthouse!