Since 1994, Kathleen O'Toole, the Massachusetts Secretary of Public Safety, has been responsible for the day-to-day oversight of 20 agencies, boards and commissions, including the State Police, the Department of Correction and the Parole Board. She has also been the driving force behind the creation of an integrated, statewide law enforcement and public safety computer network.
With the state's "single inquiry system," police, probation, corrections and parole officers can access a huge database of information, from a variety of state agencies. A single inquiry on a suspect at a traffic stop, for example, can turn up outstanding warrants, restraining orders, probation, parole and correctional status, court records, DUI arrests, sexual offender status, firearms registration and more.
O'Toole and Craig Burlingame -- secretariat information officer and executive director of the Criminal History Systems Board -- talked with Government Technology's Blake Harris about the hurdles they have overcome to establish an unprecedented level of cooperation and information sharing between diverse agencies in the state.
GT: You have accomplished a great deal in a few short years since taking on the job of Secretary of Public Safety in Massachusetts in 1994.
O'Toole: Yes, I think so. Describing the Massachusetts criminal justice system a few short years ago, journalist George Lardner wrote, "We are inundated with talk these days about the information superhighway, but the justice system is still running on dirt roads." He was right. The Massachusetts justice system was in a state of technological chaos. Corrections didn't know what probation was doing. Judges in one town didn't know what judges in another town were doing. And suspended sentences were disconnected from probation violations.
I'm basically a cop who has worked hard and moved up through the ranks. I'm obviously not a "techie." My daughter a few days ago commented, "Gee Mom, you've come a long way since I first taught you to turn on the home PC a couple of years ago." We joke about that. But I've had the good sense to surround myself with fabulous staff. And I think you'll never find a greater champion for technology than I am. Having come up through the ranks, I really have a first-hand appreciation for what it can accomplish.
GT: And this appreciation has resulted in the determination to employ technology to improve the criminal justice system throughout Massachusetts?
O'Toole: Very much so. For instance, in our new single inquiry system, by making one inquiry about an individual, the police officer can determine whether an individual is on parole, has outstanding warrants, is under Department of Correction supervision, is on probation out of state, or is a sexual offender.
We are incorporating all our probation data into that system as well. We will be able to determine not only whether someone is on probation in Massachusetts, but also the terms of that probation, [as well as any] restraining orders and firearms licences. This will all be accomplished with one inquiry. And this is accessible to a law enforcement officer in the field.
GT: This single inquiry system is part of a broader vision as I understand it.
O'Toole: It is one component of a totally integrated system. That system will not only connect police with corrections and other law enforcement people, but other facets of the criminal justice system as well. One of the very important links is with the courts. The courts are included in the single inquiry system so that we can determine an outstanding warrant the moment that the warrant is issued. We are very proud of our first-in-the-nation all-electronic warrant management system.
GT: What was the most important factor in building this integrated system?
O'Toole: The most important thing is the relationships that exist between the different facets of government. When I was a young police officer, I don't think