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Going online gives prosecutors an advantage in abuse cases

New technology at the Largo Police Department may make it more difficult for spouse abusers to go free.

A recently installed computer link with the state attorney's office allows police officers to send reports and evidence, including photographs, to prosecutors overnight via the Internet.

This means that before an abuse suspect faces a judge, usually sometime before noon the morning after an assault, an officer's account of what occurred, including pictures of injuries, is available.

"It's pretty exciting technology," said Linda Osmundson, executive director of CASA, a spouse abuse shelter in St. Petersburg.

"Some of these guys are charming," she said. "They go to court and tell a judge they didn't hurt their wives. Now a judge can see that's not true."

Sgts. Brian McKeon and Brenda Wayt head the program for the Largo Police Department.

In addition to linking with the state attorney's office, McKeon said, a north county spouse abuse shelter can also access the World Wide Web site. Shelter staff members use the information for counseling, McKeon said.

In addition to pictures of injuries and crime scenes and police accounts of incidents, the information transmitted via Internet includes an audio recording of the original 911 call, McKeon said.

Kim Adams, the city's finance director, worked with the Police Department to set up the computer link.

"It was a lot of work and took a lot of coordination with the state attorney's office," Adams said. "But it gives the police and the prosecutors very vivid evidence."

Adams said that eventually, judges should be able to access the information "right at the bench."

The project has so far cost $45,820, Wayt said. Grants have paid for 54 percent of the cost with the city paying the rest. The money has been used to develop the Internet site and to buy cameras, audio cassettes and a personal computer for the spouse abuse center.

McKeon said spouse abuse is a serious problem in Largo, with about 1,000 reported calls each year. Since the program went online, about 30 cases have been put on the Web site, McKeon said. The site is protected by secret account names and passwords so that only those authorized, such as the state attorney's office, can log on.