October 29, 2010 By Lauren Katims Nadeau
When hunting a fugitive, North Carolina Department of Insurance employees usually take a series of steps to track someone: One is to deploy several agents to search various records held by North Carolina’s 100 counties, with the hope of finding the offender’s location. In the past, the process could take months.
Now, agencies like the insurance department theoretically will be able to find their suspect in a matter of minutes — and at no extra cost — by using a new database that’s being implemented by the Office of the State Controller. The program, currently in the pilot phase, is called CJLEADS, which is short for North Carolina Criminal Justice Law Enforcement Automated Data Services. The system helps criminal justice professionals make quicker and more accurate decisions about offenders, its developers say.
Using CJLEADS, the Department of Insurance queried for the fugitive, saw that he had an upcoming court date for a traffic violation in another county in a couple of days, and were able to make an arrest at that time.
“We’re not creating any new data; the unique thing is that we pull it all into one application,” said Kay Meyer, project director of Statewide Data Integration in the Office of the State Controller.
CJLEADS gathers together information about offenders that is already listed in various files around the state, and integrates that data into one, user-friendly system. A user can enter search criteria — anything from an alias to a date of birth — for an existing offender, and the system returns a list of photos, physical descriptions, outstanding warrants and court dates.
“We try to give [criminal justice professionals] any info that can help them narrow down their search into exactly what they’re looking for,” said Meyer.
The program has been piloted in Wake County since July, servicing 1,600 to 1,700 users, including law enforcement officers, judges, district attorneys, clerks of court, juvenile court, and parole and probation officers. Officials plan to extend it statewide in January 2011, servicing 33,000 criminal justice professionals. Meyer said her organization has presented the project to federal agencies like the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice, which hope to one day search criminals at a federal level in a similar manner as CJLEADS, she said.
“The response has just been incredible,” Meyer said. “We’re hearing from the rest of the state: ‘When can you get this out to us?’”
When two years ago a Duke graduate student and the student body president at University of North Carolina were murdered by the same offender within weeks of each other, law enforcement officials across North Carolina recognized there was a need for a more collaborative, accurate system for identifying and managed criminal offenders.
During the investigations it was discovered that the offender was on probation at the time of the murders, but the probation officer was handling 127 cases and hadn’t received basic training. The offender had never actually met with his probation officer and his case had been handled by 10 different officers.
The North Carolina General Assembly recognized that there was a critical need to integrate criminal justice in the state, so the legislature allotted funding for a system to be developed, said Meyer. A legislative mandate provided full funding for the CJLEADS project, which is estimated to cost $27 million, with a $9 million annual fee for ongoing operations. Meyer said she does not foresee any usage fees.
A separate effort in response to the high-profile murders spurred the state to fund a new tracking dashboard that is in use by North Carolina’s probation officers.
One of the earliest challenges was figuring out which organizations will have access to what level of information. The state controller’s office implemented role-based security, which allows them to control which fields different users can view. For example, a district attorney would not be able to see information about juvenile defenders if it wasn’t pertinent to the case.
The program is accessed through an Internet Protocol address on authorized computers in state and local government facilities. For police officers on the road, many patrol cars have laptops in their vehicles that allow them to do a query while driving or pulling someone over for a traffic violation.
Users can also set an “offender watchlist” to keep track of certain individuals’ activity. Every morning authorized users receive an e-mail alert about any changes to their CJLEADS accounts. For example, a parole officer would receive an alert if an offender on his list was arrested.
The software for CJLEADS was developed by North Carolina-based data integration company SAS, which built the system using SAS Business Analytics, including Enterprise BI Server, Enterprise Data Integration Server and Enterprise Miner.
In December, the state controller’s office plans on expanding the program to list sex offenders, and will be collaborating with the Division of Motor Vehicles to provide better photos. They also plan to include statistical analysis to reveal patterns that may lead to better understanding about preventing recurring violence in juveniles, Meyer said.
“There’s a purpose for this data beyond just serving law enforcement and magistrates,” Meyer said. “We hope that this will improve safety, give [criminal justice professionals] better information when they make these encounters” and give judges a more accurate perspective when they’re making decisions.
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