arrest reports, robbery reports and other information to officers' patrol cars. Participants in the two-year initiative include sheriffs' departments in the southern Mississippi counties of Harrison, Hancock and Jackson, as well as local police agencies from a number of municipalities within those jurisdictions.

ASP will create a central database of law enforcement information accessible to all project participants. The project will equip 160 Harrison County Sheriff's vehicles with mobile data terminals and software by August. Other participants will gain access to the system soon afterward.

Like CapWIN, ASP formed a governing board comprising representatives from participating agencies. "If you don't do that, you won't get cooperation," said Harrison County's Parker.

He added that leadership is another key factor in uniting a disparate group of public safety agencies. "The really hard part -- and the reason why it hasn't often been done -- is getting all of the jurisdictional leaders to agree on a common goal," he said. Parker credits Harrison County Sheriff George Payne, a 27-year law enforcement veteran, with providing the vision needed to push ASP forward. "You need someone strong enough and respected enough that others will follow their lead," he said.

But even with high-level backing, working out the details of interoperability can be remarkably time consuming. For example, Parker estimates he spent nine months forging agreement on a joint custody form that will be used by ASP participants when they arrest a suspect.

"Every municipality had a different form and everybody had their little nuances to it," he said. "I thought I'd get it hacked out in a month, but it took a lot of doing."

There was no secret formula for achieving agreement, just plenty of hard work, said Parker. "You just have to be totally aggressive. Don't let anything languish. You have to give people dates and make sure those dates are met."

After the joint custody form was finished, however, similar issues were solved more quickly. "Once we got through that hurdle, everybody saw that we could do it," he said. "All you have to do is clear that first hurdle and the rest get a little easier."

It also helps that participants are getting their first taste of interoperability's benefits. Harrison County recently unveiled a wireless booking system for nearby municipalities that use the county jail. Prior to ASP, local city police forces booked and photographed arrestees at their headquarters, then transported the suspects to the county facility. Because the city and county booking systems were not integrated, suspects had to be booked and photographed again when they reached the jail.

Now booking information wirelessly flows from city police to the county. Using a common booking form and a wireless microwave relay, officers simply push a button to send the arrestee's data to the jail.

"The information is sitting at the jail when officers arrive. They don't have to wait 30 minutes while all the paper work is filled out. They don't have to take another picture. They just drop off the arrestee and they are history," Parker said. "It saves a lot of officer time, and that's a very practical benefit."

Steve Towns, Editor Steve Towns  | 

Steve Towns is the former editor of Government Technology, and former executive editor for e.Republic Inc., publisher of GOVERNING, Government TechnologyPublic CIO and Emergency Management magazines. He has more than 20 years of writing and editing experience at newspapers and magazines, including more than 15 years of covering technology in the state and local government market. Steve now serves as the Deputy Chief Content Officer for e.Republic.