The District Attorney’s Office knows its prosecutors will frequently be called on after hours to assist law enforcement with legal matters. There is also information the office needs to share with officers to ensure it is receiving what it needs in return.

Until recently, the process on both ends has been cumbersome, sometimes involving “literally faxing” documents that are then mislaid.

The prosecutor’s office found what it hopes is the answer — a secured, online portal that drew inspiration from insurance companies.

“What we know is that officers are driving around, and what do they have on their dashboards? They all have a computer, plus they’re all, like the rest of the human race, using smartphones,” District Attorney Dan Hotsenpiller said.

“What we wanted to do was provide them with a one-stop, easy place to access information about our office.”

Law enforcement agencies respond to calls around the clock — and, frequently, they need access to prosecutors, judges and other information after hours.

“We provide 24/7, 365 (day) on-call services. An officer is responding to a situation. Events are occurring, sometimes, very quickly. They’ve got a lot that they’re trying to manage. Maybe they need legal advice, or a warrant approved,” Hotsenpiller said.

“But who is on call with the DA?”

In the past, officers had to call dispatch centers for the information and dispatch needed to have a current list of on-call prosecutors. In turn, that meant the DA’s Office had to generate a three-month calendar, print it off and “literally fax it” to some of the communication centers in the 7th Judicial District.

“What that meant for one thing was, we didn’t control that information like we should,” the DA said.

If an on-call attorney was ill, having an emergency, or had even left his or her position, changing the on-call schedule required Hotsenpiller to create and distribute a whole new list, and make sure all parties who needed it had it.

“It was cumbersome on our part and it was fraught with error,” Hotsenpiller said.

He began discussing with a local web designer, Kim Floyde, what might be done. Then, during talks, a “breakthrough,” he said.

“She was familiar with the (portal) concept that insurance companies use on an internal basis,” the DA explained.

The DA’s portal, which went live about a month ago, takes the idea more system-wide, and even has potential to be replicated elsewhere.

“We’re going to see how it works. If it works really well, we’ll share it with other district attorneys,” Hotsenpiller said.

The concept might not be suitable everywhere — the 21st Judicial District is only Mesa County and deals with a limited number of law enforcement agencies. Hotsenpiller’s office, by contrast, works with about 28 agencies in the 7th Judicial District, so a central location for updated information and other assistance makes sense.

Only those with a username and access code can get onto the site; it is not open to the general public.

The portal not only keeps an electronic, up-to-date on-call list, but also provides a host of other information at one place, including contact information for judges, forms, templates and checklists that better inform investigating officers what the DA’s Office needs from them.

“What this does is it increases our efficiency because it allows us to make sure the information we’re providing to law enforcement is updated, current, and it’s simple for us. It’s one place,” Hotsenpiller said.

Also on the portal: Which prosecutor is handling which type of case.

“There will be information regarding cases an individual attorney is responsible for. We have multiple attorneys handling felonies in Montrose. An officer doesn’t necessarily know which attorney is handling a case they might be interested in. They can go here,” Hotsenpiller said.

On the portal, officers can also find investigative forms and templates, such as a checklist to use when they are investigating a crime against an at-risk adult, child sexual assault, domestic violence, or unattended deaths.

“We know checklists are really helpful. Pilots use them before they take off. Why? Because checklists work,” Hotsenpiller said.

Templates can be used to draw up a search warrant or other document. That can be particularly helpful for smaller agencies in the district, where a supervisor might not always be available, or for officers who are preparing such a document for the first time, he added.

Hotsenpiller is also listing his office’s protocols for procedures such as eyewitness identifications, which, he said, “are fraught with high rates of error” that can lead to false convictions.

“That’s an area we want to be really careful with, so we’ve published a set of procedures and guidelines,” Hotsenpiller said.

He also provides comprehensive guidance on such laws as the state’s marijuana statutes.

“In the past, I would send those out. I would email them to investigators. I would give them to chiefs, sheriffs and marshals. I would have a meeting and talk about them.”

But such guidelines often would be filed away, meaning they weren’t available when an officer was confronted with a possible violation of marijuana laws.

The guidelines Hotsenpiller prepared are now available through the portal.

The site also helps prosecutors get more precise information about an investigation.

By law, all deaths not attended by a physician or similar provider must be reported. What officers report to the DA runs the gamut, from too-basic details, to unnecessary, lengthy narrative.

“We need more than the minimum, but we don’t need a lot more. We need to be able to assist and make sure that it isn’t something suspicious and there isn’t some additional investigation that needs to be done,” Hotsenpiller said.

“What we’re doing is providing them with a central place for information that can be helpful to them.”

Katharhynn Heidelberg is an award-winning journalist and the senior writer for the Montrose Daily Press. Follow her on Twitter @kathMDP.

Montrose Daily Press | December 13, 2018
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