E-signatures: Making your law enforcement tax dollars go farther

Copied from E-signatures: Making your law enforcement tax dollars go farther

By J.B. Van Hollen

The column below reflects the views of the author, and these opinions are neither endorsed nor supported by 

How do state criminal proceedings begin? District attorneys file criminal charges, but they do so typically on the basis of a signed and verified complaint by a law enforcement officer. 

In the typical case, a law enforcement officer or his or her supervisor will prepare or help prepare the complaint, drive from their headquarters or a scene to the district attorney’s office, wait to meet with the district attorney or an assistant district attorney, take an oath, submit the signed document, and drive back to their patrol or headquarters. This process can take considerable time, particularly in counties with understaffed district attorneys offices and large geographic areas. This is time that the officer could be spending on patrol or time that is now paid for out of limited overtime budgets – budgets that are better reserved for immediate public safety needs. 

One way to chip away at this inefficiency was raised at several county law enforcement roundtables that I’ve co-hosted with state legislators. 

If a criminal complaint could be sent to a district attorney in an electronic document with an “e-signature,” it would cut down on the time and travel needed to file a complaint with the district attorney – and even allow officers equipped with a laptop and a cell phone to file a complaint from a scene. These efficiencies would multiply as computers become increasingly ubiquitous and mobile. The time spent now on unnecessary travel could increase an officer’s time on the street or cut down on overtime, saving taxpayer money without infringing on public safety or fairness. 

But to allow this requires a change to state law. Working with primary authors Representative Gary Hebl and Senator Bob Jauch – state legislators who attended law enforcement roundtables in their districts – my office developed a bill to make this happen. That bill will get a hearing on February 4 before the State Senate Judiciary Committee. 

It’s time we move our law into the 21st century and find a way to make your tax dollars do more work. I hope you take the opportunity to contact your legislator and explain to them just how this simple bill would assist Wisconsin’s law enforcement community. 

-- Van Hollen, a Republican, is Wisconsin's attorney general.