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To Track and Prosecute ...

Linking five public safety agencies is expected to improve Colorado's ability to share information and reduce redundancy.

by / September 30, 1997
For years, Colorado had the image of being easy on criminals and disorganized in handling criminal cases. But when the number of adult arrests in the state climbed to 200,000 in 1995, with an additional 60,000 juvenile arrests, the state decided it was time to take action.

In mid-1995, a frustrated legislative commission went to find a solution to the state's criminal justice woes. It had several objectives in mind. First, members wanted to get a picture of the criminal justice system as a whole -- from arrest, to sentencing and on through the corrections system. This would allow them to see the overall impact of their decisions.

Second, the commission wanted to appease the five state agencies involved in public safety, whose workers had become increasingly vocal about the lack of information available to them. "They basically had to reinvent the wheel each time an offender moved into their system," said Dave Usery, chief information officer for the Colorado Integrated Criminal Justice Information System Task Force. "They would have to rediscover and re-enter data and a lot of wisdom about the offender was being lost along the way."

The state's answer was the Colorado Integrated Criminal Justice Information System (CICJIS) which, when completed, will become one of the first statewide integrated justice information systems of its kind.

Working Together

The impetus for CICJIS came when the Colorado Legislature passed a bill requiring the five agencies involved in public safety -- the Department of Corrections, the Department of Public Safety, the Department of Human Services (which houses the Division of Youth Corrections), the Judicial Branch and the Colorado District Attorneys Council -- to come up with a plan for sharing information. At that time, the CICJIS Task Force was formed to help departments in this process. Led by Usery, the task force came up with a plan and submitted it to the Legislature, where it was approved. Shortly after, in 1996, the Legislature passed another bill to fund the effort.

Under the plan, Colorado set out to achieve several goals. One was to reduce the duplication of work and effort while improving the quality and completeness of information. Another was to allow the five agencies to share information quickly.

Dave Usery, CIO

"We need quick information," said Usery, "because the way the judiciary system is set up -- especially with prosecutors and judges -- they have a very short time limit to make a decision as to whether they'll let a person out on bond.

"If you don't have complete criminal history and you don't know what kind of a person you're dealing with, you could make a mistake. The same thing goes for a police officer. If they pull someone over and they don't know there's a warrant out for this person, if they don't know they're dangerous, they could let them go when they shouldn't. So basically, the system should give individuals the opportunity to make better decisions for public safety."

But Colorado faced several challenges in their quest. First, they had already invested a good deal of money in information systems for these five agencies individually. For example, the Department of Public Safety has a law enforcement data repository and an electronic connection to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. Similarly, the Colorado District Attorneys Council has a data repository. The other departments invested time and money in various computer systems, and state officials decided they could not afford to scrap them. The solution had to be a system that could utilize what they already had in place.

What they found was a middleware product, EnterpriseConnect Middleware from Sybase, which could seamlessly link all five agencies' systems. This strategy will allow workers in each agency to continue using the technology they know and are used to, yet simultaneously access information from other agencies in realtime. Users will also be able to query another public safety agency's database directly from any point in the system, as well as write data to another agency's database and automatically update the other databases. This feature eliminates redundancy and reduces errors introduced by data entry.

"I think one of the biggest challenges was that the agencies kept their applications as they were," said Dawn Howell, state and local government practice manager at Sybase. "They had programmers that were required to do some work and integrate their applications with our technology. Then it was just a matter of writing modules that would interface their databases and ours together."

During the initial proof of concept phase, the Colorado District Attorneys Council and the Colorado Bureau of Investigation were integrated. These two agencies now have the ability to access criminal histories and to obtain more complete and current information necessary for effective decision support.

"One of the main benefits of this," said Usery, "is, because all the data is connected, you can see patterns emerging that you may have otherwise missed."

In May, the state demonstrated the connectivity between all five systems and allowed the system to proceed into the final implementation phase. The final phase is expected to last seven months, during which time the five agencies will work together to make sure all their business needs are being met. The goal is to go live with CICJIS statewide in January. "We're leveraging existing technologies as much as possible, with the idea that as these systems are replaced, we'll go to a more common technology amongst us. But middleware allows us to do it right now," said Usery.

Pushing Data

Part of what will make CICJIS such a powerful tool for public safety in Colorado is that it not only allows officials to query for information, it actually pushes data from one system to the next as an offender moves from one agency to another. "It translates data to what the other agency can accept and places it into their system," said Usery. "So we can push arrest data to the district attorneys, we can push filing information from the district attorneys to the courts, we can push court scheduled events back to the district attorneys, we can push the disposition back to the district attorney and back to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. We can pass assessment information and sentencing information to corrections, etc."

So far, Usery says CICJIS is on budget and on schedule. But the state is still facing a challenging road ahead. One thing they've discovered along the way is that, in addition to the different technologies each agency uses, they also tend to speak their own languages. That language barrier had to be overcome to some degree to enable effective communication. "The system itself is helping to bring some degree of commonality of language," said Usery.

"You cannot underestimate how leading edge the state of Colorado is in protecting their current investments, but also attacking the problem of crime head-on through an integrated criminal justice information system," said Neil Baron, marketing manager for Sybase's consulting services division. "These criminals change their name, date of birth, appearance, etc. It takes a state-of-the-art criminal justice system to track and prosecute the modern criminal."

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