Pasadena Police Department launches virtual arraignments


In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Pasadena Police Department has launched a program to conduct arraignments via video.

Michelle Robinson, an administrator in the Department’s Jail and Property Section, was given the task of creating a virtual system to promote social distance and help with cutting down on face-to-face time between the Police Department, the City’s Courthouse and inmate transfers.

“I got a call on a Friday that we were going to try virtual arraignment and we needed to have it ready by that Monday,” Robinson said. “We needed two feeds, one for the courts, one for the confidential lawyer and client interviews. As you can imagine, we were not built to have arraignments here at the Department … but with a little finagling, we were able to create it.”

Pasadena PD’s Michelle Mercier Robinson, police administrator, demonstrates how a computer with a camera and microphone is setup inside the Pasadena jail to allow inmates to talk with a judge.rPhoto by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

The Los Angeles County courts launched a program in mid-April to conduct arraignments virtually, Pasadena Police Department and courts were one of the first Departments to join the experiment and it has been a success for them.

 “Now that we’ve seen what can be done with digital technology, it has become a part of our routine,” said Acting Commander Mark Goodman, Special Operations Division. “It has made us efficient in so many ways – it’s cost effective, safer for everyone and it allows us to leverage technology to our advantage.”

Robinson, created simple virtual arraignment rooms made up of desks, fast Internet and laptops. She found two visitation rooms in the Department’s jail area where they could create space for pre-booking and virtual arraignment.

“We leave the inmates alone in the room, handcuffed and we log them into the WebX program that directs them to a video with their lawyers,” Robinson said. “After that everything that happens … happens through the camera.”

Virtual arraignment is voluntary, according to Robinson, who said people can still request to see a judge in person, because courts are open, just limited and not open to the public.

The new system has shown the Pasadena Police Department the capability of video and how it can help during this new era of social distancing.  

“We are prepared to do this as long as necessary,” said Acting Commander Goodman. “I wouldn’t be surprised it became a fixture in how we do things.”

Pasadena PD’s Michelle Mercier Robinson, police administrator for the Jail and Property management section, demonstrates how a lawyer can talk to their client in jail without visiting the jail through an online computer setup in the interview room.rPhoto by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge