Acrime is committed; an investigation begins; a suspect is arrested; the hearing is held; the suspect is jailed and eventually released.
At each of these steps, information surrounding the initial incident is gathered and recorded. More importantly, data collected at each phase is vitally important to the subsequent one. However, because today's law enforcement and criminal justice communities were created to operate independently of one another, there is no easy way for the agencies
to communicate with one another regarding common data. As a result, the same information is often redundantly gathered.
While redundant data gathering is not unique to public safety and criminal justice agencies, public pressure to reduce the threat of crime in communities is forcing these agencies to find a solution. Furthermore, though public safety agencies have been able to avoid some of the budget crunch that others agencies have faced, the funding may not be sustainable, leaving agencies with little alternative than to work together and combine resources.
Integrated public safety and criminal justice must become a reality if this problem is to be solved. In such an environment, information will be tracked by individual rather than incident. Suspect and/or criminal data gathered during the investigation will be stored in databases accessible by the courts and lawyers, where legal and appropriate. Throughout the process, police officers will have visibility over a criminal's specific location and status, be it in a trial or parole hearing.
The dramatic shift to a fully integrated environment is too massive to happen overnight, however. Instead, incremental change will eventually lead the community to benefit from a seamless information systems environment. In essence, we will see an integrated public safety and criminal justice environment evolve over several different phases.
INTEGRATED PUBLIC SAFETY
The first phase in this evolving seamless environment will be among public safety agencies (law enforcement, fire and emergency medical services). In fact, today's local public safety agencies are already beginning to align themselves. It is not uncommon for a jurisdiction's police, fire and emergency medical services departments to operate a centralized dispatch unit. For example, Boston's Police Department recently implemented such a consolidated system and has benefited immeasurably from streamlining the communications.
In addition to Computer Aided Dispatch, frequency standardization is a critical issue, especially considering that today's public safety and law enforcement agencies utilize up to six different radio frequencies. As it exists today, many public safety agencies (be it at the state, local or even federal level) find themselves in the dangerous position of being unable to communicate with all necessary parties in the event of an emergency. In one example, two different public safety agencies were working together to clear up a train crash, but they were using radios that operated on different frequencies. Since they were working on opposite sides of the train, the agencies could not communicate with each other. Though the lesson was learned the hard way, the city soon began to establish common communication standards.
Gradually, state and local government agencies are also recognizing the need to increase data sharing and communication among various nonpublic safety agencies. This phase of data sharing will be prompted by the need for increased access to information about individuals in the justice system (e.g., state child support enforcement offices wishing to cross-check offender records). Or, as in the case of Atlanta, the correlation between transportation and public safety drove Atlanta's Police and Transportation Departments to work together to devise crowd management and communication systems for the Summer Olympics.
As integrated public safety develops in one sphere, integrated justice will also begin to emerge as a step toward an integrated public safety and criminal justice environment. Integrated statewide court systems usually begin at the state level, but must include the cooperation of all lower