The Orange County, Fla., Sheriff’s Office is five months into a unique project using the Google Search Appliance to locate and extract criminal justice information from three different internal databases, including the agency’s data warehouse.

Sheriff’s Office officials say they may be the first law enforcement agency to use the Google search hardware this way. The tool is being used primarily to search relational databases, but it also can crawl most standard file systems and social media feeds. For example, the Sheriff’s Office has tested it successfully with Twitter and RSS feeds.

Hal Trask, the Sheriff’s IT solutions delivery manager, and Sheena Lovette, a crime analysis supervisor, discussed the deployment in an email interview with Government Technology.

They said several multi-database searches conducted with the search appliance have resulted in the location or arrest of suspects. An armed robbery suspect was located and arrested. A homicide suspect was located and questioned for a neighboring police department. And a search query for “kegs” resulted in the identification and arrest of three suspects — a search that helped solve seven to 10 cases of theft and resale of beer kegs.

Although the technology is only being used to search Orange County Sheriff’s data, the office intends to expand the searches. “The next step in our initiative will be to begin working on arrangements with various local agencies in order to begin sharing data via [the search appliance],” wrote Trask and Lovette.

The system’s Web-based user interface has been dubbed CRAIG, for Criminal Research and Investigative Gathering application. The Google Search Appliance hardware sits on the Sheriff’s network. CRAIG currently works with internal databases within the sheriff’s Tiburon records management system, including the Automated Reporting System, Crime Analysis and Calls for Service.

The Sheriff’s Office anticipates no technical difficulty in expanding the search capability to other jurisdictions. “The only issue that we may run across is mapping each agency’s data elements to one common format,” said a Sheriff’s Office spokesperson. “The [search appliance] supposedly does have built-in functionality that should provide the ability to do this. We just haven’t gotten to that phase yet.”

Data shared between law enforcement agencies would be transferred using CJNET, a secure private network provided by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

The Sheriff’s Office technical team created the new system quickly, said Trask and Lovette. “Our programmers were able to produce a useful working prototype of CRAIG in approximately 30 days without ever having been exposed to the Google technology API. The learning curve was fairly minimal.”

However, they added, the project will need to continually adapt to changes in technology, system availability, the evolution of crime patterns, human interaction and even linguistic changes. “As we move forward toward a more federated search, searching across other agencies, it will be interesting to see if the challenges are more technical related or people related.”

Wayne Hanson  |  Staff Writer and Editor of Digital Communities

Wayne E. Hanson has been a writer and editor with e.Republic since 1989, and has worked for several business units including Government Technology magazine, the Center for Digital Government, Governing, and is currently editor and writer for Digital Communities specializing in local government. Hanson was a juror from 1999 to 2004 with the Stockholm Challenge and Global Junior Challenge competitions in information technology and education. He self-published three books of fiction and lives in Sacramento with his wife, Jeannie.