Justice, Governors Unite On Info Sharing Project

Justice, Governors Unite On Info Sharing Project

Paul Kendall

By Steve LeSueur, Editor

The Justice Department and U.S. governors are joining forces to give top-level priority to information sharing among state and local law enforcement and justice agencies.

The Justice Department's Office of Justice Programs is providing $1 million in grant funding to governors to begin the strategic planning necessary for building integrated justice systems within the states. The grants will be administered by the National Governors' Association, which intends to issue requests for proposals this summer to get the work started.

While the amount of funding is relatively small ? only about $20,000 per state on average ? the effort is designed to build upon the more than $500 million the Justice Department spends annually on information technology projects among state and local law enforcement agencies.

"This is an opportunity to get the governors directly involved in the process," said Thom Rubel, director of state information technology programs for the Washington-based National Governors' Association.

The initial grants represent the first phase of a two-phase program to implement statewide information sharing among criminal justice systems, said Paul Kendall, counsel for the Office of Justice Programs. In the next phase, selected states will be awarded multimillion-dollar grants to carry out their strategic plans.

Law enforcement officials have long noted that their effectiveness would be increased dramatically if they could share information about crimes and alleged criminals across jurisdictions and agencies.

But developing a common architecture to allow information sharing has not been easy. Many law enforcement officials guard jealously their authority over IT systems, and are reluctant to change their ways of doing business or allow someone else to dictate how their systems should operate, said industry and government officials.

That is why the governors' participation is crucial, said Rubel. "The process needs someone who can draw a collective vision for integration and bring together the separate entities such as the courts, police and corrections," he said.

The cooperative effort between the governors' association and the Justice Department complements an assortment of ongoing federal IT initiatives among state and local law enforcement agencies.

One is a project by the National Association of State Information Resource Executives to create an information architecture that will facilitate data sharing among law enforcement agencies. NASIRE, which began the project last year, likely will receive about $400,000 for its second year of study, Kendall said.

"This is a seminal building block to creating national capability for sharing justice information across the United States," Kendall said regarding the NASIRE project. The goal is for the governors to begin the high-level planning necessary to implement the NASIRE recommendations when the NASIRE study is completed.

Another project to boost information sharing in the states is a planned Center for Integrated Justice Information, which Kendall's Office of Justice Programs is sponsoring. The center will serve as a showcase for best practices in industry and government, and will help bring together the disparate players in the criminal justice arena to improve communication and data exchange among their IT systems.

The opening of the center, originally scheduled for April, likely will be this summer due to unexpected delays, Kendall said.

Government officials expect industry to play a key role in shaping information-sharing initiatives. An industry working group created by Kendall's office will participate in the center's integration efforts. The group consists of officials from about 20 companies, including IBM Corp., Litton-PRC Inc., TRW Inc. and Unisys Corp.

NASIRE also is listening to industry voices in its effort to develop a common information architecture, said Gerry Wethington, director of the information system division of Missouri's State Highway Patrol and chair of the NASIRE study.

"We're trying to get the government's IT architecture more closely aligned with the private sector," he said. "We're not going our own way."

The Justice Department is helping fund two demonstration projects that will serve as examples to other states. One is Project Hoosier SAFE-T in Indiana to prove a statewide voice and data communication system for the state's public safety agencies. The initial phase is $11 million, and total value of the project could reach $66 million, said Lester Miller, special counsel to the superintendent of the Indiana State Police.

The Indiana State Police in December 1999 selected Motorola Inc. of Schaumburg, Ill., as the prime contractor. The federal government is providing $2.5 million for the first phase.

The other demonstration project is an initiative by the Southwest Alabama Department of Justice to integrate data among criminal justice agencies. That project is receiving $7.5 million in federal funds.

A large part of the impetus toward information sharing is being driven by federal mandates, such as the requirement for background checks for gun buyers, said officials.

The infusion of federal funds, including $130 million in fiscal 2000 as part of the Crime Identification Technologies Act, also will spur integration efforts. The act specifies that funds be used for purposes such as upgrading criminal history and criminal record systems, improving criminal justice identification and promoting compatibility and integration of national, state and local systems.

Government officials said the act enjoys bipartisan support in the House and Senate, and so they anticipate continued strong federal funding regardless of whether a Republican or Democrat takes over as president next year.

Consequently, state and local governments are expected to increase their own portion of spending on criminal justice information systems from $86 million in 1999 to $223 million in 2004, an annual average growth rate of 22 percent, according to Dataquest, a research arm of the GartnerGroup, Stamford, Conn.

Governors are expected to embrace information sharing because such initiatives can streamline administrative tasks, cut costs, protect the lives of law enforcement personnel and reduce crime, said government and industry officials.

"Governors view themselves as champions of public safety," Rubel said. "They want to use information technologies and connect them to public safety."

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