The New Braunfels Municipal Court has won an award for its court technology.
According to the Court Technology Conference website, the McMillan Award recognizes the court professional who developed an innovative idea, program, product, or process related to court technology. It was established in 2013 and named after James E. McMillan, an employee of the National Center for State Courts, as well as an innovator of court technology.
In September, NBMC Judge Rose Zamora will go to New Orleans to receive the award from the National Center for State Courts at the Court Technology Conference. Zamora said one of the many things the NCSC does for courts across the nation is advocate for efficiency, including the use of technology toward that goal.
Something old, but a breakthrough
While the award is new for the NBMC, Zamora said the technology is not. In fact, it has been around since 2015. When Greg Brown, the city’s geographic information systems manager, worked with the court, Zamora told him of what she envisioned: a heat map for all of their warrants in town.
So, he created a GIS warrant map. The warrants are plotted out throughout the city by patrol district. The officer could hit one of the numbers and get a list of all the active warrant information in that patrol district.
The change was an improvement in efficiency. Previously, officers would get a stack of warrants from the NBMC and they would issue the warrants. Now, it's all provided on the GIS heat map.
“The officers can make notes in here, it gives them all of the data, and it even gives them a picture of the defendant,” Zamora said. “It's made things more efficient for the patrol and for us, because we get information from them.”
They are able to run reports that show which warrants are getting closed and which officers are working what warrants. Additionally, Brown also went as far to set up heat maps in other locations, such as Bexar County, enabling them to more smoothly work with other agencies.
“So it's just something at the time, in 2015, that was actually pretty awesome,” Zamora said. “And we're really proud of it, because we're able to do it so you can do a defendant search, and it's just a really good tool for efficiency’s sake.”
Videoconference in, when it’s a last resort
Another old but new technological innovation is videoconferences.
Like the GIS heat map, Zamora has been holding court videoconferences in her from her laptop since 2015.
“I think as courts we have to think outside the box,” Zamora said. “And we have to figure out ways we can offer people to communicate with the court to get their matter resolved or help them on their way to do that. That's what these tools have helped us to do.”
Utilizing the Zoom app, she and the citation violator sign in and speak as if in open court, communicating about charges and options.
Once they come to a resolution, the court clerk will send them an email form. She said the videoconference is used for people who live outside the tri-county area or who have other special circumstances, such as hospitalization or lack of transportation, particularly if their license has been revoked.
“A lot of people have smartphones, even if they don't have transportation,” Zamora said. “We're able to provide the video conferencing ability with them.”
The encoded system also has a queue system. When someone makes a request for a videoconference, the court clerks put it in a queue that’s waiting for Zamora on court day. The clerks tell the person that Zamora will videoconference with them sometime during their allotted time block.
Additionally, people who have received citations can find their information and select an option of how to resolve it, such as choosing a driver safety course. Once the option is selected, a form auto-populates the person’s information and it creates a form for the person to electronically sign.
Zamora said the innovation would not have happened had it not been for Brown, NBMC Court Administrator Robin Shellard, the court clerks and the city.
“Without them I don't think any of this would be possible at all, because it takes all of us to critique what we're doing,” she said. “I rely heavily on the staff, on the court administrator, on city management to help me make these things possible to the public.”
In April, the NBMC also won the 2019 Tyler Public Sector Excellence Award for its display of leadership and innovation.
For more information, visit www.nbtexas.org/129/Municipal-Court.