The Crime Database Battle
In many cases criminals who have been stopped by the police are freed when local law enforcement data searches miss important information stored outside of their own systems. An integrated data system would enhance the ability of law enforcement to identify suspects quickly.
Accurate identification is the key to successful investigations. Whether a person is arrested or is released for a crime that occurred in another jurisdiction is frequently based on the ability of the police to confirm the subject’s identity. It is that identity that links the person to an arrest warrant. Warrants are stored in databases on the local, state and federal level. In addition, terrorist watch lists and investigative alerts are also computerized and stored in different databases. Most of these databases are not integrated and therefore the information contained within them is not shared.
Since the greatest majority of arrests occur during vehicle stops, an effective system requires timely information. The widespread use by police departments of in-car computers connected by wireless networks now make the sharing of information between agencies at all levels possible.
Prioritizing resourcesArtificial intelligence programs could be used to search databases, detect patterns and to link suspects and evidence leading to a more sophisticated and efficient criminal information system. Law enforcement agencies could then prioritize their resources to focus on areas identified as high risk. This is especially important in the pursuit of terrorists, so that their preparations for attack can be disrupted before they result in destructive actions.
To proactively address both traditional criminal activity and the more recent threat of terrorism, technology must be put into place that creates a seamless data grid that can be queried in real-time as needed by authorized agencies. Currently there are number of initiatives focusing on the integration of criminal justice data.
BackgroundToday, law enforcement agencies are generally aware of only the crimes that occur in their jurisdiction or in their domain of authority. Information about crimes that take place in other areas is often gleaned through media coverage or through after-the-fact criminal exchange meetings between different agencies. This occurs even if two agencies have adjoining jurisdictions or associated authority.
The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 graphically exposed the risk of such a stove-piped data structure. With an integrated data system in place, the isolated data points of suspicious activity at flight schools might have been recorded and analyzed, and reports of the risk of terrorist hijacking might have alerted law enforcement in time to prevent the tragic events.
Since Sept. 11, the federal government has been aggressively working to link the databases of its many agencies and improve information sharing between federal, state and local agencies. However, it is quite likely that information exists in far-flung databases that could avert the next terrorist attempt. Given that major existing threat, a system needs to be in place to correlate, connect and integrate the disconnected pieces of data that currently reside in separate data sources.
National criminal databasesCurrently, national databases such as the National Crime Information Center are in place to archive and provide access to data concerning fugitive, missing and wanted persons and vehicles, criminal histories, and stolen property. Criminal information is sometimes shared by entering the data into separate databases as is done in the investigation of violent crimes using the Violent Criminal Apprehension Program (VICAP). VICAP is a nationwide data information center designed to collect, collate and analyze crimes of violence, specifically murder. The FBI provides VICAP database software to state and local law enforcement agencies, free of charge. The program has been embraced by many large and small agencies nationwide.
Unfortunately, no national database exists for sharing information among criminal justice agencies concerning criminal activity and information contained within law enforcement incident reports. Historically, this has occurred for several reasons.
1 There has been resistance to sharing information between agencies.In many communities the fact that crimes are being committed is concealed from the public as much as possible. No community wants to be perceived as being an unsafe place to live or work. If information about crime is shared between agencies it is feared that the information would become known to the public.
2 Computerized records management software designed for law enforcement is a relatively new phenomenon.This technology has only become widely used in the last 20 years. Most law enforcement agencies have records management software but there are many small agencies that continue to use paper reports.
3 Records management systems are typically developed in-house or purchased from a vendor.Some public safety vendors have written software programs that allow multiple police agencies to link their databases as long as each agency is using the same vendor’s system. Efforts are now underway to find a uniform way to connect legacy systems that utilize vendors’ proprietary systems.
Several large-scale efforts are developing criminal justice integration standards. The successful integration of data is highly dependent upon the development and adoption of accepted standards. Among these are the following:
GLOBAL initiativeThe International Association of Chiefs of Police has recognized that the ever-increasing interstate and transnational nature of crime is a serious issue to the country and urged the White House and Congress to support efforts such as the GLOBAL Justice Information Sharing Initiative for improving the integration and compatibility of local, state, federal and international criminal justice information systems.
GLOBAL is a consortium of 32 local, state, federal and international justice organizations that are working on sharing information using a common XML standard. Member organizations participate in GLOBAL out of shared responsibility and a shared belief that, together, they can bring about positive change in inter-organizational communication and data sharing that will span the spectrum of law enforcement, judicial, correctional and related bodies. GLOBAL released the first operational version of their XML Data Model in February 2004.
As part of this effort, the Global Advisory Council (GAC) was established to advise the nation’s highest-ranking law enforcement officer, the U.S. Attorney General, on public safety matters. The GAC aids its member organizations and the people they serve through a series of important initiatives such as: the facilitation of the GLOBAL working groups; the development of technology standards, such as the GLOBAL Justice XML Data Model; the creation of white papers on data sharing issues, such as the National Criminal Intelligence Sharing Plan; and the dissemination of information via the GLOBAL website.
GLOBAL aims to develop and implement a standards-based electronic information exchange capability, providing the justice community with timely, accurate, complete and accessible information in a secure and trusted environment. The value of a GLOBAL Justice Information Sharing Initiative capability is that it benefits all operational justice officials.
The efforts of the GAC have directly impacted the work of more than 1.2 million justice professionals. The organization’s mission positions GLOBAL to impact citizens of the U.S., Canada, and beyond. GLOBAL’S mission – the efficient sharing of data among justice entities – is at the very heart of modern public safety and law enforcement.
SEARCHSEARCH, The National Consortium for Justice Information and Statistics, is a nonprofit membership organization created by and for the states. SEARCH is dedicated to improving the criminal justice system and the quality of justice through better information management, the effective application of information and identification technology, and responsible law and policy.
Since 1969, SEARCH’s primary objective has been to identify and help solve the information management problems of state and local justice agencies confronted with the need to exchange information with other local agencies, state agencies, agencies in other states, or with the federal government.
The program is governed by a membership group comprised of one gubernatorial appointee from each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, as well as eight at-large appointees selected by the program’s chair. Members are primarily state-level justice officials responsible for operational decisions and policymaking concerning the management of criminal justice information, particularly criminal history information.
A staff of professionals works from SEARCH headquarters in Sacramento, Calif., to implement solutions identified by the membership group. Through its staff and with the direction of the membership, the program provides justice agencies with diverse products, services and resources through three program areas: Systems and Technology, Law and Policy, and Research and Statistics.
Funding for SEARCH activities is provided by annual fees from member states for the operation of the consortium, and Board of Directors’ grants from various U.S. justice agencies, state grants and federal, state and local contracts.
The Justice Information Exchange Model (JIEM) is a product of SEARCH. Its components include a conceptual framework, research and planning methodology and the JIEM Modeling Tool, a Web-based software application that enables users to document and analyze justice information exchanges. JIEM is the model that is preferred by NASCIO (National Association of States Chief Information Officers) for inter-state integration of justice systems by the States.
JIEM also incorporates the use of the Global Justice XML Data Model, which was created to facilitate a common set of XML definitions to be used by all levels of justice professionals to share information.
For more large-scale efforts toward information integration, look for another article by the author in an upcoming issue of Security.