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Arm Courtroom Bailiffs With ... iPods?

Bailiffs are indispensable to maintaining order in court. To that end, court systems often treat bailiffs much like law enforcement officers, even arming them with firearms or tasers. Now, the National Center for State Courts says that perhaps bailiffs should also be armed with something else -- an iPod or iPhone.

The idea is outlined in a recent post to the NCSC's Court Technology Bulletin by Jim McMillan, an NCSC court-technology consultant. Earlier this year, he writes, while working on an NCSC courthouse project, his team considered how technology could support this essential courtroom employee -- an employee whose work has so far been little impacted by technology advances.

If one were to design a technology tool to support the work of the bailiff, they asked themselves, what form would it take? McMillan's team came up with five characteristics:

  1. A device that is small and light and that could not be turned into a weapon.
  2. Battery power for a full work day.
  3. Wireless communications via WiFi or cellular connection.
  4. Capable of quiet operation so as to not disturb the courtroom.
  5. A simple user interface.

Those specifications, needless to say, describe to a tee the Apple iPod Touch or iPhone (if you overlook the full-day battery issue). McMillan outlines several ways in which a bailiff could use an iPod in the courtroom:

  • For quiet communications. The iPod would allow the judge or clerk to exchange messages with the bailiff via e-mail or text messaging. With the iPod's touch screen, their typing would not be disruptive to the courtroom.
  • To manage the queue of cases. The bailiff could use the iPod to notify the judge or clerk of defendants or parties who are ready to appear in the courtroom. In criminal cases, the bailiff could notify detention officers when the judge is ready for defendants.
  • As a detained-defendant locator system. The bailiff would use the iPod to track the location of detained defendants within the courthouse. This could be especially useful in large courthouses with multiple holding areas.
  • To view security video. For courts with digital security-video systems, bailiffs could use their iPods to view the video. Among other things, this would allow a bailiff to scan a room before entering it and to monitor the courtroom and the surrounding corridors.
  • To remotely control secure doorways. By combining the security video output and electronic door controls, a bailiff could be notified via the iPod when someone wants to enter a secure chambers, verify the identity by video, and then unlock the door.
  • To carry photos of wanted or dangerous persons. With an iPhone, the bailiff could also take pictures and transmit them to law enforcement authorities.

In an update this week to his initial post, McMillan notes that a company that supplies the control systems used in many courtrooms recently released an app that allows use of an iPod or iPhone as a remove control for home lighting and electronics systems. If they can do it for the home, they can do it for the courtroom.

McMillan's ideas certainly make sense and, if nothing else, provide another angle on how technology can be adapted to the courtroom. Who knows -- the day may not be far off when every bailiff is armed with an iPod.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on November 20, 2009 at 03:22 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)


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