Interoperability among Michigan's public safety and law enforcement agencies won't be established with one sweeping initiative, but through a series of steps.

The Michigan State Police (MSP) took the initial step by launching its Criminal History Record (CHR) Improvement Project, which goes live in December. The project turns the current mainframe-based Computerized Criminal History (CCH) system -- the central repository for the state's criminal history data -- into a more open environment.

"We have something that's been working for years that was built on mainframe and older legacy technology," said Patrick Hale, director of strategic planning and research for the Michigan Department of Information Technology. "The reason this particular effort is so important to us is that it's one piece in a very large puzzle moving from older proprietary technologies to a more open, sharable environment."

The CCH database contains all data involving arrests, prosecutions and convictions in the state. Each record starts with an arrest from a law enforcement agent, who submits the suspect's fingerprint on a paper card or through an electronic system, known as Live Scan. When the prosecutor decides whether to charge an individual, that information is either physically mailed or sent electronically to the MSP for inclusion in the CCH database.

The CHR Improvement Project will help streamline these processes by modernizing the way the agencies interact.

"This project takes '70s technology, updates that to modern database structures and makes Web interfaces available to users outside the current closed network architecture," said Chad Canfield, system design and support manager for the MSP's Criminal Justice Information Center. "It makes XML interfaces available to data-contributing agencies as they modernize their systems."

One goal is to reduce the cost of maintaining and disseminating criminal records data by making information processing in all phases more efficient with less duplication. Part of the upgrade will consist of an Oracle database and a Web-based front end.

Canfield described the initiative as taking a piece of the mainframe application, the CHR, and putting it on a more open platform with newer technology that will interface with applications run by various agencies.

"The current CHR resides on a mainframe," he said. "The interfaces from law enforcement, prosecutors and courts all run through the mainframe on a proprietary format based on legacy communications standards."

The MSP will modernize the process by taking the CHR off the mainframe and building new communications standards, such as XML and other Web services, into it to make it possible for message queuing (MQ) technology to do the work of retrieving and sending data to various law enforcement agencies as they ask for it.

The modernization will work with users' legacy technology. It's a piece of the interoperability puzzle.

"States have these lofty goals of interoperability, interchangeability and sharing solutions, and this is a big, broad idea," Hale said. "But these projects are implemented on a battle-by-battle basis, project by project."

A Good Model

The rewrite project wasn't hatched in a meeting room. It mushroomed, starting as a need to fix some issues with the current system and becoming a full-blown initiative.

One problem with the current system is the different data sharing connections for different agencies. A key to the modified database will be its ability to exchange information with all different legacy interfaces of the many agencies. Trying to mandate that agencies develop a similar standard would delay the project and affect cost, Canfield said.

"If we wound up having to mandate connections between all these systems in any other way, we'd end up with a higher cost point," Canfield said.

He said the project is a good model for other Michigan agencies because the state, like others, faces budget issues and

Jim McKay, Justice and Public Safety Editor  |  Justice and Public Safety Editor