A new intelligence database should make identifying criminals and their affiliations a lot easier in eastern Pennsylvania.
The Luzerne County District Attorney's Office is setting up a new system that gives law enforcement officials from across the county instant access to criminal identifiers such as nicknames, tattoos and known associates. Cops from different local police departments will also be able to share the data with one another. The database is being funded by a $131,270 federal grant, according to a report in the Luzerne Times Leader.
Currently police in Luzerne County need to request records over the phone from other departments. The manual process can be slow and inefficient, particularly in a field where seconds matter.
Hanover Township Police Chief Albert Walker told the Times Leader he's “excited” that the project is finally under way and said he thinks it'll lead to solving more crimes.
In an interview with Government Technology, Dane Merryman, executive director of the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association (PCPA), agreed, noting that sharing knowledge of similar criminal activity in a region covered by multiple jurisdictions can help law enforcement close out cases.
Merryman said data-sharing between police agencies is “extremely valuable.” He noted that it has taken years for the technology to develop to a level that makes it practical and affordable for cops to use.
In order to take advantage of data-sharing, departments must implement an automated records management system (RMS). Luzerne County's new database requires agencies to use Metro Alert RMS. While Metro Alert is the RMS of choice for many police departments in the county, there have been investments in other products and vendors, which could make the requirement of using Metro Alert difficult for some agencies.
“Generally we would have a concern for systems that are proprietary and only capable of sharing data with other organizations using the same vendor platform,” Merryman said. “We are not suggesting that is the case in Luzerne County. It is our hope that systems of this type are built on standards that are easily integrated for data-sharing purposes with other records management systems from the various technology providers.”
Police departments will individually decide what information it will share with others on the new server and database. When asked whether that was appropriate, or if more strict requirements about what information is made available on the database is needed, Merryman said data integrity and complying with statutory mandates should govern the issue.
The PCPA believes it's reasonable that an agency should have the discretion to share what it wants, particularly if the intelligence was derived from their own efforts.
“While we agree the more information that is shared, [the] more opportunity [there is] to use the information to advance investigations or to protect the safety of the public and police officers,” Merryman said. “However, the decision regarding what gets shared should rightfully be made by the department who has the responsibility for the data integrity.”
Brian Heaton was a writer for Government Technology magazine from 2011 to mid-2015.