to positively determine the identity of a criminal suspect from weeks to hours. FBI officials estimate that IAFIS will prevent the release of up to 30,000 suspects who are freed from custody each year because of delays in establishing their true identities and
But IAFIS must rely on data and information provided electronically by state and local agencies. Only a handful of states are prepared to fully participate in this system by electronically sending fingerprints and associated criminal-history information to the FBI. Many other states are in dire need of funding and technical support to build the information infrastructure to participate in IAFIS.
The seed monies authorized in the technology act will also support state and local participation in the Interstate Identification Index, the national system that permits local, state and federal agencies to exchange arrest and conviction information, as well as the NCIC 2000, NIBRS, sex offender registries and other systems.
"The new law permits the nation's justice community to realize the full benefits of what has already been invested in these important federal systems," said Gary R. Cooper, executive director of SEARCH, the National Consortium for Justice Information and Statistics, based in Sacramento, Calif.
Communications technologies for police systems are also a priority under the new law. Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., one of the key supporters of the legislation, pointed out a vivid example of the need for integrated technology. In 1997, a shooting spree along the Vermont and New Hampshire border killed four people, including two New Hampshire state troopers.
"Vermont and New Hampshire officers were forced to park two police cruisers next to one another to coordinate activities between federal, state and local law enforcement officers," Leahy said, "because the two states' police radios could not communicate with one another."
Finally, 20 percent of the total grant program will be set aside for forensic technologies that have enormous potential for solving crimes.
"State forensic laboratories and medical examiner offices are experiencing difficulty in performing the scientific analysis necessary to prosecute these cases in a timely fashion," said Florida Rep. Bill McCollum. He added that the money set aside ensures that a meaningful amount of funding will support the forensic programs.
It is important to remember, however, that the technology act authorizes funding of up to $250 million each year; thus, Congress must also pass legislation each year appropriating the funds.
The $1.25 billion over a five-year period will provide critical seed money to build a firm foundation on which state and local justice agencies can build their integrated information and identification systems, and will reduce the amount of time the public must wait before it enjoys the benefits of full-scale justice-system integration.
Still, there remain funding needs that transcend traditional acquisition procedures and bureaucratic boundaries; potential conflicts between public access, privacy and confidentiality; security issues; and the need to develop acceptable information-exchange standards and long-term system maintenance plans.
These and other challenges to integration will be addressed at the Bureau of Justice Assistance and SEARCH 1999 Symposium on Integrated Justice Information Systems, Feb. 8-10 in Washington, D.C. The symposium is geared toward state and local justice agency practitioners and will share models, best practices, standards and technologies to help these agencies successfully plan for and implement integrated systems. The symposium will also feature demonstrations of operational integration technologies and success stories from around the country.
Kelly J. Harris is the technical assistance program manager for SEARCH, a private, nonprofit corporation dedicated to improving the criminal justice system through effective application of information and identification technology. Funded by U.S. Department of Justice grants, SEARCH provides technical assistance, training and counsel to justice agencies that need help to plan for, acquire, develop, upgrade or integrate automated justice-information systems.