New Center to Aid Integrated Justice

New Center to Aid Integrated Justice

Paul Kendall

By Steve LeSueur, Staff Writer

The Department of Justice is establishing a multimillion-dollar research center to promote information sharing among state and local law enforcement and justice agencies, the latest move to infuse federal money into an assortment of criminal justice information technology programs.

The National Integration Resource Center, which is expected to open in April, will serve as a showcase of best practices in industry and government. It also will help bring together disparate groups, such as the police and courts, to improve communication and data exchange among their information technology systems.

"The idea is to use the resources and authority of the federal government to lead by support and facilitation [and] not by mandate the development of integrated justice," said Paul Kendall, general counsel for the Office of Justice Programs, which is sponsoring the center.

Kendall's office already has started planning for the center, which will gather reference materials, hold conferences, sponsor demonstration projects and fund other activities that bring together IT specialists in the criminal justice arena. It will initially be based in Washington.

"The Office of Justice Programs has been a shining star in the area of helping local governments get going with integrated justice," said Lester Miller, special counsel to the superintendent of the Indiana State Police.

Law enforcement officials often guard jealously their authority to build IT systems for their own jurisdictions and agencies, and are reluctant to change their ways of doing business or allow someone else to dictate how their systems should operate, industry and government officials said.

Consequently, the Justice Department often has used federal grant money as a carrot to persuade state and local agencies to communicate and collaborate on integrated solutions.

"If federal resources can be the impetus to get jurisdictions to work together, it's a good thing. Otherwise, politics and turf battles make it pretty tough to get a deal between jurisdictions," said John Kost, a vice president of public-sector solutions for Cleveland-based TRW Inc.

The precise amount of funding for the center has not been determined. However, Kendall estimated a significant portion of the $10 million or so his office is planning to spend on state and local justice initiatives would go toward the center. This funding comes from the Justice Department's global criminal justice information network program.

Kendall envisions a strong voice for industry at the center through an Industry Working Group his office created last spring to discuss integrated justice issues. About 20 companies are represented in the group, including IBM Corp., Microsoft Corp., Litton-PRC Inc., TRW and Unisys Corp.

The establishment of the National Integration Resource Center coincides with an increase in federal funding for criminal justice technology. In the fiscal 2000 budget, Congress approved $130 million for the Crime Identification Technology Act.

The act specifies that the funds be used for purposes such as upgrading criminal history and criminal justice record systems, improving criminal justice identification and promoting compatibility and integration of national, state and local systems.

While this funding is little more than half of the $250 million authorized for the Crime Identification Technology Act, the money comes on top of the roughly $500 million in grants the Justice Department awards annually to state and local governments for various IT projects, said Kendall.

Most the new funds are earmarked for special programs, including two that Kendall would like to become demonstration projects for the resource center.

One is a Kentucky program to develop a statewide integrated justice network. The second is an initiative by the Southwest Alabama Department of Justice to integrate data among criminal justice agencies. Each is receiving $7.5 million in federal funds.

Other legislation approved by Congress under a different technology initiative gives $2.5 million for Project Hoosier SAFE-T in Indiana to provide a statewide voice and data communication system for the state's public safety agencies. The Indiana State Police Dec. 17 selected Motorola Inc. of Schaumburg, Ill., as the prime contractor.

The initial demonstration phase is $11 million, and total value could reach $66 million, said Miller, who oversees the project.

Other large IT grants include $5 million for the final year of funding for North Carolina's integrated criminal justice information system, and $2.5 million to improve information sharing for Missouri's juvenile justice information system in the State Court of Administration.

Federal funds will boost considerably the spending by state and local governments on criminal justice information systems. These governments are expected to increase their spending from $86.6 million in 1999 to $233 million in 2004, an average annual growth rate of 22 percent, said James Macaulay, a government analyst with Dataquest, a research arm of the Gartner-Group, Stamford, Conn.

Criminal justice technology projects, especially those involving information sharing, generally enjoy widespread political support. These projects streamline administrative tasks and cut costs.

But most importantly, by giving police up-to-date information about potential criminals and criminal activity, they protect lives and reduce crime, strong arguments that help put criminal justice at the forefront of government IT initiatives.

"Integrated government is starting in criminal justice," said John Flynn, a vice president of state and local government business for Litton-PRC of McLean, Va. His company in November 1999 received a contract potentially worth $10 million from the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services to build an integrated criminal justice information system.

Flynn said just about every state is doing something in this area. "There is a lot of activity because there are federal funds involved," he said.

Another government benefiting from federal funding is Hamilton County, Ohio. The county sheriff's office has received $11.2 million from the Justice Department for its $16 million COP-SMART program to provide a wireless communications system that will be shared by 44 public safety agencies, the county court systems and the prosecutor's office. IBM Corp., Armonk, N.Y., in December received a $4.8 million contract to begin the initial phase of the work.

"We're working in seven states on 10 projects similar to the COP-SMART program," said Ralph Fuller, IBM business development manager for public safety and justice solutions. "The states are all trying to take advantage of Department of Justice grants."

IBM also has found success outside the United States with national and municipal governments. The company built an integrated court management systems for the Austrian Ministry of Courts under a $30 million contract. The state of Victoria in Australia in February 1999 gave IBM a seven-year, $130 million outsourcing contract to manage the IT systems for its 12,000 police officers.

And IBM now is providing consulting services to South Africa, helping the government plan for an integrated justice initiative worth $300 million, according to John Maguire, managing executive for IBM public safety and justice business.

"I'm really bullish on the future for criminal justice," said Maguire. He praised the Justice Department for its U.S. initiatives, saying, "its leadership and funding is going to accelerate integrated justice programs."

These efforts by the Office of Justice Programs to promote information sharing hold a lot of promise, but their success remains to be seen, said Tom Davies, a senior vice president with Current Analysis, an intelligence and analysis company in Sterling, Va.

"The primary barrier to integration has never been technology. It is people, politics and turf," he said.

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