The benefits of E-signature technology for police departments
Eliminate redundant administrative tasks while improving collaboration and efficiency throughout the criminal justice system and with the public
By Shonte Eldridge
From drones and body-worn cameras to gunshot detection software and artificial intelligence tools, police departments across the nation are deploying technology to keep officers and citizens safe. However, if law enforcement leaders fail to improve the outdated, cumbersome and paper-dependent processes they rely on to get the work done, departments may only partially reach their desired policing outcomes and goals.
To address this challenge, police, sheriffs and other law enforcement departments are using e-signature technology to accelerate criminal investigations and eliminate redundant administrative tasks while improving collaboration and efficiency throughout the criminal justice system and with the public.
Although e-signature technology can be leveraged in various ways, the following three areas have shown immediate and sustainable benefits to police departments and the communities they serve.
1. Criminal investigations
In 2000, the U.S. federal government passed the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act (ESIGN), which in tandem with laws in all 50 U.S. states, granted e-signatures the same legal status as handwritten signatures.
This change in the law allowed officers, detectives, prosecutors and judges to electronically sign legally binding and admissible documents in any local, state, or federal court.
To accelerate the criminal investigation process and ensure personnel spends more time on actual policing, departments are integrating e-signature technology into investigation workflows, including:
- Electronic warrants: Digitizing the warrant process eliminates the need for officers to travel to a courthouse or judge’s home to obtain signatures and makes it easier to upload the information directly into existing Report Management Systems (RMS) and Evidence Management Systems (EMS).
- Evidence control: Digitizing submission forms and incorporating e-signature technology into the evidence process accelerates intake, streamlines chain of custody workflows, and establishes a secure digital audit trail that can hold up in court.
- Witness statements: Digitizing the witness statement process for low-level crimes gives officers and detectives the flexibility of conducting interviews by telephone and allows witnesses to quickly sign their statements electronically from anywhere using their computer or mobile phone.
Criminal investigation success examples: Butte County decreased the time to issue a warrant from hours to minutes, sped up investigations and reduced how long it took for officers to report to a crime scene by moving to an e-signature and digitized process. The City of Henderson digitized its blood-draw requests process to ensure the two-hour window for judicial signoff is completed electronically within minutes and submission deadlines are not missed.
2. Administrative tasks
Although policing and investigations are the primary activity of most police departments, hundreds of other administrative tasks are required to ensure the public safety work gets done. Ranging from the overwhelming task of managing overtime to ensuring officers are properly informed and continuously trained.
However, the above tasks become even more difficult to achieve when you factor in that police departments across the country are facing severe staff shortages. The 2021 PERF survey found agencies hired fewer new officers while resignations and retirements increased in 2020-2021 compared to the previous year.
To address the above challenges, senior law enforcement leaders have begun partnering with companies like DocuSign to modernize and simplify their heavy administrative processes like employee time and attendance and grants management. However, others are expanding the use of e-signature and document management technology to automate and manage traditionally manual administrative processes, including:
- Hiring and recruiting: Moving the entire police application and onboarding process to an electronic format makes it easier for recruits and new hires to apply, sign and submit forms (such as W2, I9) and background check information from virtually anywhere, any time on their mobile devices.
- Asset management: A paper-heavy asset management process is labor-intensive and often results in lost assets. Digitizing the distribution and receipt process eliminates the need for completing paper requests, accelerates equipment approvals, and improves real-time location visibility and management of asset life cycles.
- General orders and training acknowledgments: Incorporating e-signature technology into the general order and training process helps to identify who has and hasn’t read or signed documents and permits leaders to seamlessly import the information directly into ERP systems like Workday, when available.
Administrative tasks success example: The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation – which employs over 63,000 people across 35 facilities – leveraged DocuSign to implement electronic timesheets and, during the early days of COVID, streamlined consent from over 23,000 non-remote employees who were eligible for the vaccination.
3. Community engagement
Due to the private sector’s use of modern technology, today’s citizens are more tech-savvy than previous generations. They’re pushing for faster, more secure and more reliable tools to improve their police engagement experience. They’re no longer willing to come to a station to complete paperwork, print paper forms to manually fill out, or wait weeks to months for a response.
Police departments across the country have already begun to digitize their public-facing forms. However, several forms still need to be printed to complete or, if they’re fillable online, must be submitted to a general email inbox, which often requires an employee to manually sort, forward and manage.
Incorporating e-signature and document management technology into the process not only streamlines and accelerates processing – because documents go directly to approved reviewers – but the additional requirement of a signature can turn documents into legally binding pieces of evidence.
The landscape of policing is constantly evolving and e-signature technology can help leaders reduce costs and increase efficiency and effectiveness in every facet of a police department.
About the author
Shonte Eldridge has worked in and with law enforcement executives for over two decades and previously served as DocuSign‘s first Senior Director of State and Local Government Strategy and Solutions.