Jumping the Jurisdictional Fence

A simple piece of software links seven cities' justice systems.

by / September 24, 2002
Among the most pressing needs in law enforcement agencies nationwide is communication across jurisdictions, but the main hurdle to creating that level of communication is turf battles.

In the Hampton Roads region of Virginia, though, police chiefs haven't worried about turf battles - they've been looking for an efficient system to help them share data for nearly two decades.

In Search of a Solution
The Hampton Roads area comprises seven independent cities contiguous to one another that all have different records management systems, making cross-jurisdictional collaboration difficult.

"There was no technology out there that could do what we wanted to do," said Mark Calhoun, director of planning for the Newport News Police Department. "The technology just wasn't there."

The police chiefs pooled their money and hired two programmers, who came up with an iconic query system that did work but was too cumbersome and difficult to use. They then explored software offerings from the marketplace, stumbling onto a product that was tailored to their needs.

The resulting initiative is called CRIMES and uses Templar Corp.'s Informant software to deliver information between the cities' criminal justice systems in real time. The software gives police from all seven cities cross-jurisdictional access to all Hampton Roads criminal justice information systems from desktop computers or laptops.

"It's very simple," Calhoun said. "When you look at it you say, 'My gosh, I can't believe for this amount of money and this simple piece of software, we can do what we've been trying to do for 20 years.'"

A federal grant of $1 million to the region paid for the system.

"[The chiefs] went to [former] Sen. Chuck Robb and said, 'We need to make this system happen,'" Calhoun said. "He said, 'Great, how much do you need?' We said a million. For less than a million dollars and in less than 12 months, we went from concept to reality."

The system allows users to type a name into a search engine in one city and a history of everyone with that name in any of the seven cities' criminal justice systems will appear. The same can be done with a vehicle license number and a state ID number, as well as other control numbers.

The system uses two servers, as well as a backup. The system, an open Applications Programming Interface (API), has neither a central data warehouse nor any uploading of information.

"This search engine sends this query out to the different records management systems and then returns [the answer to that query] back to you," Calhoun said. "It doesn't affect that city's operation."

The system works well for keeping track of local people involved in lower-level crimes, he said, and those "chumpy" little crimes can lead to the capture of bigger fish, which happened recently; the United States Naval Criminal Investigative Service asked for help in trying to find an individual who had deportation issues.

A search of the system yielded information that tied him to a couple of those "chumpy" crimes and information on where to find him.

CRIMES became operational in June, and, as part of the contract, the company will continue maintaining the system for the next two years. The police chiefs would like to link the system to mug shot files, but the next step is most likely what Calhoun called "de-confliction."

"Let's say you're looking for Joe Smith, and you query CRIMES," he said. "I query CRIMES and I'm looking for Joe Smith. The system will say 'You two guys need to talk.'"

Catching On
Other jurisdictions are using the software similarly. In Charleston, S.C., three county sheriff's departments and three city police departments are using a system that uses the same software but also copies information to a central database. Officers in any of the six jurisdictions can conduct searches of all six criminal justice information systems, as well as the central data system and South Carolina's state-level information system.

Florida is implementing the system to enable data sharing between jail management systems in its 67 counties. Users will search all jail management systems to garner information, such as a suspect's name, date of birth, date of incarceration, release date and incarceration history.

Oregon needs to ensure that critical information from four agencies - the Oregon Judicial Department, the Oregon Department of Corrections, the Oregon Youth Authority and the Oregon State police - is accessible to authorized individuals across agency lines. State officials said they plan to implement the software to create a Web-based single-point intelligent query to share that information, but budgetary woes have stalled the project.

San Diego County uses Informant as a part of its Automated Regional Justice Information System (ARJIS), which facilitates the sharing of information between 45 state, local and federal agencies. The software provides a Web-based single-point intelligent query accessible to all participating agencies.

Concern over properly identifying users of the system in San Diego has arisen due to the number of users. There is no such problem in Virginia where fewer jurisdictions are seeking access to the system.

"My password is maintained by our city [Newport News]," Calhoun said. "By agreement, Virginia Beach says, 'Well, if you're a valid user in Newport News' system, we're going to welcome you as a valid user in our system.'"

The system also has another added benefit - since it is an open API, the system in San Diego County could conceivably link to the system in Virginia, Calhoun said.

"The beauty is, let's say we build a pawn shop module here," he said. "The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) will give that to them. If they [San Diego County] build a mug shot system, they'll give that to us. The NIJ wants to encourage this national standard stuff."

The company has implemented its software systems in various locations around the country within the last two years, and it's basically the same system that adapts to different business logic used by the different jurisdictions.

"There are different policies and procedures and laws that municipalities and states have in handling information," said W. Ross Ashley III, president and CEO of Templar. "There are some idiosyncrasies in it, but for all practical purposes, the code base itself is the same."

All a jurisdiction needs to get started using the system is a database, Ashley said.

"You can use it to give your crime analyst a view across your whole enterprise, but more often than not, what it's used for is to tie together multiple jurisdictions, like Hampton Roads," he said. "Really, all a jurisdiction needs is a database; some sort of records management, jail management, mug shot system, CAD system - anything in digital media is really all they need."

Calhoun said the system is "slick as can be."

"Criminals don't have boundaries," he said. "We have artificial boundaries caused by disparate systems that don't communicate. This jumps that fence for us."
Jim McKay, Justice and Public Safety Editor Justice and Public Safety Editor