Sheriff Kenneth L. Tregoning figures that Carroll authorities could have quickly identified a suspect -- who had given a bogus name after his arrest on theft charges -- if the county had central booking. "If we had had central booking in place, we would have learned who he was in a flash," said Tregoning, alluding to the case of Charles Clayton Chandler, 49, of Hagerstown, whom they called "John Doe" until learning his identity.
Chandler was arrested in Mount Airy on Aug. 18 about the time four men were at large after escaping from Pennsylvania prisons. The jail staff had no clue who their "John Doe" was.
Chandler eventually gave officers his real name and was held on $10,000 bail.
The sheriff pledged to implement central booking by January. When complete, central booking, a one-stop location where suspects can be identified, charged and incarcerated, features would include digital fingerprinting and camera equipment.
With such electronic conveniences, a prisoner's palm is placed on a glass screen and fingerprints are digitally read instantly. Photos taken with a digital camera are fed directly into a computer without the delay for a developing process.
"If there is a need to verify an identity, matching prints with a photograph, they can be transmitted to other jurisdictions via the Internet for a quick and positive verification," said Lt. Col. George Hardinger, the jail warden.
Tregoning said a "John Doe" situation comes up five or six times a year at the county jail, but would be virtually eliminated with central booking computers linked to state and national databases.
Hardinger, whom the sheriff tapped to implement central booking, said state officials are moving toward placing central booking in every jurisdiction and have made funds for computers and other equipment available for pilot programs.
"Carroll County is on the state's list for getting central processing, but for later rather than sooner," Hardinger said. "We hope we can be in position so that if another [jurisdiction] is next in line and not prepared, we might be moved ahead in line for the available money."
The primary benefit of a central location for processing is in expediting the booking process and getting the arresting officer back on the street as quickly as possible, Hardinger said.
Lt. Terry Katz, commander of the state police barracks in Westminster, estimated that troopers making an arrest are out of service for 2 to 2 1/2 hours while they write a charging document, perform a criminal history check, fingerprint a prisoner, escort the prisoner to a District Court commissioner for a bail hearing and transport the prisoner to the detention center.
For municipal officers in Taneytown or Sykesville, the out-of-service time can be lengthened by the longer commuting distance.
"The beauty of [central booking] is that the arresting officer can bring in a prisoner with a charging document and get right back on patrol, while staff members perform all the other duties," Hardinger said.
Another benefit is that, through repetition, those working in a central processing unit will become more proficient at performing records checks and fingerprinting, Hardinger said.
"That's not to say law enforcement officers doing that now are doing a bad job," he said.
Fingerprinting done manually with ink can be tricky because of smearing, and sometimes it has to be repeated several times before an acceptable set of prints is obtained.
Based on start-up costs in other jurisdictions, Hardinger estimated it would take about $106,000 in state money to purchase, install and maintain digital fingerprinting and photographic equipment and three compatible computers.
A monthly computer line charge of $230 would be additional, he said.
The state funding helps provide modern digital fingerprinting and photography equipment, eliminating the messy and less efficient inking method, Hardinger said.
Hardinger said a central processing unit can be implemented by January, even if state funding is not available.
"We can continue doing everything as it is done now, but just do it at one site," Hardinger said.
Unlike other jurisdictions where District Court commissioners are located at the central booking site and determine whether a prisoner is to be released until trial or held on bail, court commissioners for the Carroll District Court may remain at the courthouse.
Court officials have told Tregoning they prefer to keep their judicial identity separate from law enforcement.