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Florida Prosecutor Uses RFID to Track Files in Real Time

The Florida State Attorney's 15th Judicial Circuit is using a real-time location system to quickly identify the floor and office where particular files can be found, thereby preventing legal snafus and reducing labor costs.
By Beth Bacheldor
Dec 05, 2007The Florida Office of the State Attorney's 15th Judicial Circuit is using passive RFID tags integrated with a real-time location system (RTLS) to track the thousands of felony case files the court system processes annually.

The 15th Judicial Circuit has always found it challenging to track all of its active felony case files, which move from various divisions and offices in the 45,000-square-foot, four-floor building in Palm Beach County. Over the course of a year, the 15th Judicial Circuit typically considers 120,000 criminal cases for potential prosecution. Of those, as many as 18,000 come into the office each year for review and processing. At least half of these 18,000 cases are plea-bargained or have warrants issued on their behalf because a criminal got away; the other half become active files within the court system. The files move through a number of steps during the life of the case, and can be transferred between divisions and offices.

Dan Zinn
When an attorney requires a specific file, it can be difficult to track down. "It is not that they are misplaced," says Dan Zinn, CIO for the Office of the State Attorney's 15th Judicial Circuit. "It's just that no one is sure where the files are in the process." Zinn began considering methods to help track files in 2004, but at the time, the available technologies were not adequately advanced. Fortunately, Zinn says, the 15th Judicial Circuit state attorney, Barry E. Krisher, has been championing the project from the get-go. "My state attorney is very visionary," he states. "It is his vision and his support that made this happen."

In July, the state attorney's office began installing InnerWireless' RTLS technology (which the company acquired upon merging with PanGo Networks in March), as well as ThingMagic Mercury5 RFID interrogators and a Zebra Technologies RFID label printer-encoder—which, according to Zinn, has programming and read capabilities consistent with those of ThingMagic readers.

The RTLS includes PanGo Platform middleware, which aggregates the unique ID numbers the interrogators cull from the RFID tags, then calculates locations and passes that information to the state attorney's office's file-tracking software, known as STAC. Staffers can access STAC and, in two keystrokes, determine a file's whereabouts on a graphically presented floor plan. The system can identify the floor and office containing the file, as well as how long it has been in that location. In addition, the system can present a list of cases located within a particular area, and staffers can drill down to find more information on a specific file listed.

To identify the files, the state attorney's office is fitting them with 1-by-4-inch paper labels with embedded Alien Technology EPC Gen 2 RFID tags. "This tag size fits the files and is comfortable for staff to use," Zinn explains.

Many real-time locating systems rely on active RFID tags, but the PanGo system can acquire location information from both active 2.45 GHz Wi-Fi-based tags (compliant with IEEE 802.11 b/g standards) and passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) tags based on EPCglobal and ISO standards. The system includes so-called Location Source Providers—software components able to accept location data from various sources, such as active and passive RFID tags. It also utilizes a location engine, a software component that receives the signals (including those from Wi-Fi-based active tags) over standard wireless networks and other wireless systems, such as Cisco's Aironet. "Although we started in RTLS with active tracking, it really is a generalized tracking system and works equally well with passive RFID," says Richard Barnwell, InnerWireless' VP of product development.

The RTLS went live at the state attorney's office in September. Currently, there are several interrogators on the first floor in the intake room—the division of the state attorney's office that reviews evidence to decide whether a case should go to court, or be plea-bargained or dropped—in the mailroom and at doors at the building's entrance. About 12 interrogators are installed on the third floor, in the felony division, where files are handled by prosecutors and their support teams. The fourth floor, where the criminal research team works, has four. Each reader typically has two antennas, though a few have three. "Two antennas were selected to be conservative," Zinn says. "Each reader can be expanded to four antennas, but we have no plans to do so at this time."

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