May 10, 2010 By Andy Opsahl
An effective way to motivate multiple law enforcement jurisdictions to partner on a centralized database is to make subscribing to it free of charge.
That was how Leon County, Fla., got 18 counties to upload data beginning in 2006 to its pawnshop transaction tracking database. The repository enables law enforcement to track where stolen property is bought and sold in pawnshops across the participating jurisdictions. The information has other uses besides stolen property investigations too.
"We had a missing persons case here just recently where they looked at what the person had pawned and where they pawned it to try and get an idea of where they might be," said Hermon Davis, applications and database manager for Leon County.
County staff built the database with in-house resources, meaning its development didn't cost much. With the system already in place, hosting pawnshop data for other counties didn't cost much extra. No added server space was needed because the repository stores simple text, which takes little space.
The second carrot for counties to participate in the joint system was an agreement that each jurisdiction would own its own data, at least officially -- a distinction had derailed similar efforts in the past.
Transaction data in the documents can be organized and arranged any way the pawnshops want. Leon County programmed its system to extract data submitted by pawnshops no matter how it's arranged. That standard layout is what the system's end-users see when tracking pawnshop sales and purchases.
When the system went multi-jurisdictional, counties instructed shops that previously submitted paper transaction records to switch to digital documents. Pawnshops were free to record the data in Microsoft Word, Excel or any other document types that were attachable to e-mail. Law enforcement began receiving the e-mails daily and submitted the attachments to Leon County's system. Some counties have cut their manual data entry by 90 to 95 percent because they no longer have to manually enter data from the paper-based pawnshop records.
The system has provided quicker access to pawnshops records for counties that in the past lacked the staff to enter that data, according to Davis. "By law, they would keep them, but they would have to store them and manually search them if they needed to," he explained.
Uploading required no change to the counties' security infrastructures. They already had access to the Florida Criminal Justice Network, an apparatus supporting all the state's law enforcement agencies. Counties simply access Leon County's pawnshop database through that existing network.
While pawnshops are the primary focus of the repository, Leon County recently added junkyards that sell scrap metal. Expensive metals, like copper, are frequently stolen from construction sites.
Photo by Kamal Hamid. CC Attribution-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic
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