Emerging Technologies in County Government

by David Zimmerman
Tazewell County Board

From law enforcement to the court system, technology is shaping and changing county government.

A photography hanging on the wall in my county office depicts a Tazewell County Board of Supervisors meeting from the late 1800s. Twenty-six mustached and bearded men appear in the courtroom where county board meetings were held, with spittoons scattered around the room. Fast-forward 120 years later and you can see how much technology has shaped and changed our county.

Everything from how we communicate our meetings, to the services we offer and even how we get to our meetings has been dramatically affected for the better by technology. I want to focus not on the everyday technologies we are all used to now, but those that are new—and making us an even greater county.

Law enforcement has been at the forefront of many of these technological advances. The Tazewell County Sheriff’s Department recently acquired a drone that can be used in a variety of ways. It has been used in accident reconstruction, with video taken from above the crash site to help officers in the investigation. It can be used to simulate the sight lines of each driver leading up to the collision. It can also be used in search-and-rescue operations where large areas can be searched quickly and more efficiently. Crime scenes and hostage situations are other potential uses that can enhance officer safety and help resolve complex encounters.

Another technology on the way for use in citizen safety and law enforcement dispatching is the introduction of “next-gen” 911 systems. This equipment, mandated to be installed by 2019, will allow so much more than traditional phone dialing. Texting your 911 emergency or having the capability for video or photos can communicate issues more efficiently and help law enforcement officials more accurately access the severity and needs of a specific situation.

In 2018, the Tazewell County court system will introduce the Illinois e-file system, under which all civil cases will be entirely paperless. Circuit Clerk Linc Hobson has been ably stewarding this process, which will greatly increase efficiency, reduce potential errors and provide significant annual savings. Employees, for instance, will no longer have to wait for files to be passed on to start their portion of the work that needs to be done. Through proper planning and foresight, this system will be completely paid for up front with filing fees that have already been collected. Past files are currently being scanned into an electronic system that judges, clerks and attorneys can easily access.

GIS (geographic information system) is an exciting technology that continues to grow in its applications. Homeowners, real estate agents and assessors can access this data, which looks very much like Google Earth. GIS maps allow people to look at land parcels and zoning districts as they make their buying and developing decisions. Enhanced mapping can also show polling places, precincts, municipal boundaries, utility locations, flood maps and so much more. GIS maps were used extensively by Emergency Management and other agencies in the recovery phase after the tornados hit Tazewell County in 2013.

Tazewell County is also in the process of acquiring a new phone system, upgrading security features in the jail and replacing our aging voting equipment. All these systems feature new technologies that make the process more efficient, provide greater safety, and reduce the incidence of error. And while technology can be expensive, it has made our county more transparent and user-friendly for our citizens.

Lastly, technology is only as good as the people who use it, and our employees have been fantastic in their willingness to embrace and learn these new systems. As a county, we strive to provide the most efficient and cost-effective interaction with current technologies, and I hope we are achieving that goal. iBi

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