Crime Pays for State, Local Law Enforcement System Developers
Crime Pays for State, Local Law Enforcement System Developers By Neil Munro
The crime rate is shrinking nationwide but the purchase of high-tech networks by state and local law enforcement organizations is growing fast, according to industry officials and market analysts.
"The buzzword of the future" is CJIS (criminal justice information system) because so many state and local governments are hoping to buy them, said John Hanby, a vice president of sales for the state and local division of BDM International Inc., McLean, Va.
These systems are designed to share information among courthouses, judges, attorneys, parole officers, police forces and jails.
The design and deployment of such systems "represents a tremendous opportunity from a business perspective," said Robert Mancey, an account manager for the state of Colorado who is based in Denver for Sybase Inc., Emeryville, Calif. "There are a ton of opportunities," he said.
In 1996, state and local governments bought information technology and services worth $4.8 billion for public safety, including law enforcement and health care, said Meghan Cotter, an analyst with G2 Research Inc., Mountain View, Calif. Of that amount, law enforcement spending accounts for roughly $2.6 billion, she said.
Approximately $633 million of that $2.6 billion was spent on systems integration, including the creation of the criminal justice information systems. But this spending is growing rapidly, and will likely grow faster as the federal government hands out cash grants to local law enforcement officials, Cotter said.
The U.S. Department of Justice, which is processing numerous grant requests from state and local law enforcement officials, will likely give out roughly $400 million per year for the purchase of new information technology programs, said Paul Kendall, senior staff attorney at the Justice Department's Office of Justice Programs. Kendall's office is reviewing the grant requests prepared by state and local officials.
The federal government is also spending money to promote state and local links to the FBI's National Criminal Intelligence Computer program, which allows police forces to share information about suspects, and its new Integrated Automated Fingerprint Imagery System being developed by Lockheed Martin Corp., Bethesda, Md., and by Science Applications International Corp., San Diego.
However, the federal money comes with strings: the need to carefully segregate data about citizens so that it is not accidentally released to people not legally allowed to see it.
Police officers in McLean County, Ill., use BDM International's E*Justice Systems to track key data, streamline work flow and reduce delays and interruptions in the justice system.
"That's a very sensitive issue," for state, local and federal officials, said Mancey. "That's the key," said Hanby.
In Colorado, Sybase won a $1.7 million contract from the state government to deliver a system that can share information among the different computer systems used by five law enforcement departments.
They are the District Attorneys Council; the Youth Correction Division of the state's health and human services department; the judicial branch; the Department of Corrections, which operates the jails; and Colorado Bureau of Investigations, which runs the state's public safety department.
In McLean County, Ill., BDM is installing a $3.3 million CJIS system intended to link jails, courts and the police, said Hanby. The new system was declared operational Sept. 25, and will save $1.2 million per year by improving efficiency, said John Zeunik, the senior administrator of McLean County, which has a population of 137,500.
"We are basically designing one integrated system ... because we have not seen one [fully integrated system] available. That's why we are developing one from scratch," said Zeunik.
Oracle Corp., Redwood Shores, Calif., is also active in the criminal justice business, having won contracts to supply database software to CJIS development efforts in Los Angeles County and New Mexico.
Both systems link the police to the courthouses, allowing judges to review upcoming cases. In one case, the system allowed a judge to announce that a prisoner standing before him needed to be taken to the hospital because of a severe disease that had been diagnosed by the prison's health unit, according to Oracle officials. The diagnosis had not been forwarded to the jailers, who were unaware of the prisoner's condition until informed of it by the judge.
One of the major roadblocks facing the design and deployment of the CJIS is the need to hammer together some kind of working agreement among the local organizations, said Sybase's Mancey.
For example, it took more than two years, and a legislative decision by the Colorado state assembly, for a common design to be agreed upon by the five organizations that will use the Sybase criminal justice information system in Colorado, he said.
Executives from other companies say they see the same disagreements in other states, cities and counties, hindering the companies' ability to resell completed criminal justice information systems.
Many of the differences among the various jurisdictions stem from local laws and operating practices, while others simply reflect bureaucratic competition between sometime rival organizations within each state and county, the executives said.