Texas City Leverages Notifications to Increase Compliance
North Richland Hills Municipal Court
- Located in North Richland Hills, Texas
- 15 staff members
- Manages approximately 19,000 cases each year
Increasing Attendance Rates And Compliance by Adopting Municipal Justice Text Messaging Reminders
With a population of nearly 70,000 citizens in North Richland Hills, Texas, and a pool of close to 700,000 commuters in the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex traveling in and around the city, the North Richland Hills Municipal Court has the potential for high case counts.
In fact, each year, the court’s 15 staff members handle case management duties for approximately 19,000 cases — which would be the equivalent of 27.1% of the city’s population. With this volume of cases flowing through the court, online tools, efficient processes, and streamlined case management are vital to ensure timely resolution, case compliance, and avoiding a buildup in case backlogs.
“The text notifications allowed us to look at our processes as a whole and afford a more efficient, expeditious way to reach our audience to help increase our appearance and compliance rates.”
North Richland Hills Court Administrator
The Challenge: Traditional Communication Methods Did Not Yield Steady Attendance and Compliance Rates, Leading to Backlogs
When it came to reaching out to defendants, the North Richland Hills Municipal Court relied on physical mail. Whether it was a hearing reminder or a payment notification, court communications were sent out by mail, either in a letter or via postcard. Mailing could be a successful tactic, but it is also a tactic that relied on numerous factors outside of the court’s control to determine its effectiveness, prompting questions such as:
- Did the defendant provide the correct, most recent address?
- Did the post office successfully deliver it in a timely manner?
- Did the defendant receive and read the letter or postcard? Or was it simply ignored, prompting another mailing or further action?
These questions were always on the minds of the court administrator and court staff as mailings went out and there was inaction on cases. To help relieve some of the pressure of solely relying on mail service, the court knew it needed an additional tactic to assist with contacting people in a more direct, immediate way. This realization led the court to explore additional ways of delivering timely communications and giving defendants an alternative method to keep up with their cases.
The Solution: Enhance Communication to Help Alleviate Backlogs Using a New Text Messaging Feature
The North Richland Hills Municipal Court was looking for more of a digital experience to add to its communication methods and wanted to leverage technology to streamline processes.
“We were not afraid of trying something new. Our goal was to give citizens the best and easiest way to work through the case process,” said Rebecca Vinson, court administrator for the North Richland Hills Municipal Court. “We also wanted something that’ll be easy for our staff to work with within the case management system.”
The court worked with Tyler Technologies to add a new text messaging notifications feature, which was integrated with the court’s case management system, to communicate with defendants. A seamless implementation and training process quickly got court staff up to speed.
“At first, the staff wasn’t sure if the texts would get the response that was desired,” added Vinson. “Old-school tactics [like a postcard] could be ignored, but in sending text messages, there’s more of an immediate receipt-and-response process that defendants are less likely to ignore.”
When Vinson introduced the text messaging notifications to the city council in North Richland Hills, the mayor was especially receptive to the possibilities of using text messages and the financial impact they could have. “Text notifications, along with our online payment system, notably upholds our court, mayor, and city council’s goal of efficient and effective delivery of services for our citizens,” said Vinson. “Using text message notifications saved us from having to generate so many mail-out notices, which in turn led to cost saving on the paper and postage for the notices that we would normally produce.”
Text messaging notifications were first tested with the North Richland Hills Municipal Court as a pilot program with Tyler Technologies, which ran from July through December of 2019. The main objectives during the pilot program period were to provide citizens with hearing reminders along with quick, convenient ways to access the county court’s website and online payment system.
“When we implemented the new text messaging feature, it allowed us to look at our processes as a whole and afford a more efficient, expeditious way to reach our audience to help increase our appearance and compliance rates,” said Vinson. “It also helped decrease undue hardships and delays in justice.”
Throughout the pilot program, the court received metrics to help them measure the effectiveness of notifications, the majority of which were welcomed by citizens. These measurements enabled the court to learn and develop its own best practices for case resolution, which in turn helped it achieve those goals of increasing appearance and compliance rates. For example, the court’s data revealed that 11 a.m. on a Friday was the best time to send a text notification and get the highest level of responses.
After the pilot program was complete, the county court kept the text notifications as part of its court’s case process. This decision proved to be vital since just a few months after the pilot program ended, the COVID-19 pandemic took hold and adversely affected jurisdictions across the country.
“At the time we began the pilot program, COVID -19 was not a thought, but now that we have seen the many changes this pandemic has brought our way, I can honestly say that one of our saving graces is notifications by text,” said Vinson.
During the pandemic, the North Richland Hills Municipal Court released instant notifications of the ever-changing health concerns and instant cancellations or re-openings. It also added new COVID-19 notifications that helped prompt defendants to request a virtual hearing in lieu of holding cases until in-person hearings are back in session. The court’s COVID-19 texts also served as reminders for all those who are scheduled for virtual hearings. “Notifications have impacted every docket we prepare, from start of the docket up to the final disposition of the case,” added Vinson.
In the future, North Richland Hills Municipal Court plans on adding Virtual Court as another case resolution tool along with Content Manager to help manage court documents.