Pennsylvania's Justice Network (JNET) has grown over the past five years. What began as a simple means for connecting disparate justice systems is now being used to track terrorist suspects for the FBI and serving as a model for future justice systems.

After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, JNET helped the FBI identify and locate potential suspects from United Airlines Flight 93, which went down in western Pennsylvania. Immediately following the attacks, JNET installed a system for the FBI that sent information about the state's entire population to one terminal.

The FBI ran a list of all the passengers aboard Flight 93 through the JNET system. First, using the Justice Flexible Search feature, the FBI was able to simultaneously search multiple justice systems using a variety of criteria. Investigators then enlisted the digital photo search function to find a driver's license photo for one of the suspected terrorists. Another suspected terrorist was identified using arrest record information. He was located in a correctional facility.

Prior to JNET, such a search would have entailed labor-intensive outreach to surrounding jurisdictions involving a lot of overlap and duplication of work. A similar search takes a fraction of the time with JNET.

JNET was established in an attempt to unify disparate justice and public safety networks across Pennsylvania and make any and all relevant data available to the people who need it. JNET has helped to eliminate logistical boundaries and the duplication of work across city and county lines. By connecting numerous databases, anyone who is entered into the system, at any point, can be tracked across municipal and county lines. Previously, a suspect apprehended in one county could have been booked and released before it was discovered there was a warrant for his or her arrest in another county.

Follow the Clues

The JNET system is best known for facilitating thorough and swift tracking of suspects and inmates, but has also been used to crack unsolved cases, including a 21-year-old murder case.

The Philadelphia Police Department had fingerprints from a 1980 homicide. The problem was they had been unable to link the prints to an individual, and the case became dormant because of the lack of suspects.

Police later used the Automated Fingerprint Identification System to find a match for the fingerprints but found no records of the individual. They ran a mug shot search across JNET and, using an inmate search function, located a suspect who was in custody, serving 10 to 20 years for robbery. He was up for parole in 2001.

Once interrogated, the suspect admitted to a total of seven murders, four of which have been confirmed. "I've been in this business 32 years and having [a] one-stop shop is a huge advantage and saves a tremendous amount of time," said Lt. Harry Giordano of the Philadelphia Police Department.

Original Idea

The genesis of JNET dates back to 1995, when former Gov. Tom Ridge created an initiative that provided law enforcement with new ways to combat crime. In May 1997, Ridge allocated $11 million to begin building JNET and to create the JNET Steering Committee, a group of justice representatives assigned to establish and manage the tactical components of JNET.

The initial budget for JNET's first year of existence (1998-1999) was $8 million. That budget has increased steadily every year with a budget of $12.5 million for 2002. According to Linda Rosenberg, executive director of JNET, the bulk of that money goes to creating new features and additional functionality, as well as adding new data and infrastructure. Consulting firm KPMG is still heavily involved in the project. A total of $53.9 million has been allocated for JNET to date.

The governance structure of JNET consists of four tiers:

1 - An executive council, which is comprised of chief executives of various justice organizations and