May 28, 2010 By Andy Opsahl
Advances in information and communication technology (ICT) have created amazing opportunities for law enforcement professionals at local, state and federal levels to collect, categorize, cross-reference and share data and intelligence in a way that often results in a wealth of actionable knowledge. To take advantage of the opportunities these tools create, criminal justice agencies have formed multijurisdictional and regional relationships designed to combine, cross-match and share data from a wide variety of sources. Here are a few examples.
As the law enforcement community samples various options for multijurisdictional data access system standards, it may want to examine usage of COPLINK software in Colorado. Agencies statewide find it a secure, low-maintenance fit for connecting disparate infrastructures, according to Mark Pray, IT director of Aurora, Colo. Participating agencies receive COPLINK as a Web application, which automatically transposes their data into its own code standards.
"Any new agency that wants to come onto this consortium - pays to have its data converted to COPLINK and then pay the cost-sharing agreement for the local node they'll attach to," Pray said.
Four counties serve as "nodes" for hosting the data of surrounding municipalities. For example, Aurora County hosts data for Denver and Colorado Springs. Those two cities contribute to the cost of hosting their data in Aurora County. As more agencies submit data to the Aurora County node, the cost for all involved will drop.
Pray said hosting COPLINK had a minimal impact his IT staff workload and the maintenance largely took care of itself. "I'll give you an example," Pray said. "COPLINK did an update to the system. We had staff onsite to monitor the work to make sure there nothing unplanned happened, and we just watched. They handle all of that remotely from their offices in Arizona. It's working really well."
The Law Enforcement Information Exchange (LInX) is the glue that holds nearly 200 Virginia and Maryland agencies together for information sharing. The Web-delivered system is hosted by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), which covers the yearly maintenance costs for all state and local agencies connected to it. Agencies pay a one-time $75,000 fee for Northrop Grumman, the system's vendor, to adjust its hardware for connection.
"We get arrest information, mug shots - you name it - across the board," said Mark Calhoon, planning administrator for the Newport News (Va.) Police Department.
Calhoon said the various agencies trusted LInX from an IT security perspective because it was run by the NCIS, which they viewed as having credibility in that area. He attributed comfort with LInX among agencies mostly to the mutual trust of the leaders involved. He described the trust-based protocol for using information stored by another organization within LInX.
"You look into the system. If you see something you need, you call the jurisdiction to verify it and get whatever official documents are needed," Calhoon said.
Law enforcement in Texas, Washington and Alaska share data using LInX. Calhoon said Northrop Grumman was considering an idea to link all states using the system to one another.
Beyond enabling multijurisdictional data sharing, the Automated Regional Justice Information System (ARJIS) serves as a cross-jurisdictional forum for policy strategy, according to Pam Scanlon, executive director of ARJIS. The system functions as a joint-powers agency that's centered primarily on Imperial County and San Diego County, Calif. Through ARJIS, those two counties have access to data at 82 local, state and federal agencies.
ARJIS provides a platform on which public safety executives and elected officials are unusually open to listening to one another, said Scanlon. She attributed this to the fact that elected officials and public safety executives have equal voting power within ARJIS.
"That has really equalized the playing field," Scanlon said. "It has also provided an opportunity for the public safety executives to explain public safety better and what their needs are to the elected officials. On the other side, the elected officials understand those needs and help give better legislation."
ARJIS hosts 20 task forces on the members' various data needs, and that commonalty has fostered a lot of good will among them, reported Scanlon.
"There is a tremendous amount of respect around the agencies," she said. "They support each other."
Further promoting that friendly sense of collaboration is the fact that ARJIS' business plan comes from the bottom up, rather than top to bottom.
"Our members come up with the business plan. We don't take our business plan and shove it down anybody's throat," Scanlon said. "They develop it for the user based on their requirements each year."
ARJIS subsists on fees charged to members, which are based on size and number of network connections. The organization outsources hosting of the system to a private company.
Scanlon said joining ARJIS required ensuring that an agency's hardware could interface with the IP addresses and firewall used by the organization. ARJIS guides agencies in completing that.
"We write up a statement of work, do a technical design document and get their technical folks on board as well as their business people," Scanlon said. "It's a very easy installation. We come up with the cost. They sign a memo for kind of a user agreement and we get them up and running."