Police Tech Efforts A Boon to Industry

Eye on the States Thomas R. Davies

Police Tech Efforts A Boon to Industry

As crime rates fall across the country, the resources available to state and
local governments to launch new and innovative crime-fighting programs continue to grow.Many information technology companies responding to these unprecedented market dynamics foresee significant business potential in the years ahead.

The Department of Justice, for example,
recently reported the number of full-time officers patrolling the streets now exceeds 423,000. More police on the street means there's a tremendous need for mobile computing capability.

State and local police agencies nationwide are investing in mobile data solutions such as laptop computers, software, terminals, printers and other peripheral devices. In some cases, plans include new computer-aided dispatch and records management systems. Often these purchases are being funded with federal and state grants and are sometimes coordinated through statewide associations.

Pilot projects have become critical to working out kinks in these initiatives before they can be rolled out statewide. Massachusetts, for example, is now running a mobile data
pilot that eventually could include laptops for about 2,000 state police vehicles.

Virginia also is conducting a pilot using mobile data terminals to evaluate the feasibility of a paperless system for capturing data at a crime scene.

More police collecting data more efficiently through mobile computing technologies equal new opportunities for companies whose business is the storage and distribution of information.

Data sharing across jurisdictions and criminal justice agencies is rapidly moving from a "nice-to-have" to a "must-have" situation. Consequently, law enforcement agencies are broadening and expanding their data sharing methods.

States are designing networks with one-stop entry, storage and easy accessibility of criminal justice data. Integrated systems allow data to be shared from the street level via mobile data terminals in police cars, all the way through to the courts, corrections, parole and probation entities.

To set up a network, however, takes enormous coordination and resources. At the federal level, the Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Assistance has been a leader in organizing and funding projects for different technology systems. Much of its effort is focused on developing policies and programs that provide grant funds to state and local law enforcement agencies. These grants provide flexible funding that can be used to develop integrated systems.

One of the programs BJA funds is the
Regional Information Sharing Systems program. This program consists of six regional groupings of states that share intelligence among their different statewide public safety agencies, corrections, the courts and local law enforcement. Each program shares law enforcement and court information, chiefly in the areas of drugs, violent crime, gangs and organized crime. The information is shared via criminal intelligence databases, analytical services and telecommunications services.

BJA also provides grant funding for the State Identification Systems program, which helps states develop and upgrade computerized systems to link with the FBI's criminal information systems. The systems provide access to a national depository of criminal information. They include the Forensic Laboratory DNA Identification System, Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System, and the National Criminal Information Center.

Information sharing efforts also are happening among state agencies, public safety associations and local agencies.

Some states have attacked the problem with a large-scale network among all public safety agencies. Colorado is in the final stages of implementing a Criminal Justice Information System that links the state's five public safety agencies onto an integrated network. When it is complete, the network will allow case records to be transferred from the arresting officer to the courts, attorney's office and, if needed, corrections.

Colorado is one of the first states to complete a truly integrated criminal justice information system.

Linking networks from the state agency level to the local level has proven just as difficult. Smaller projects linking elements of data between local entities and the state have become one method for sharing data.

The Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association is leading an effort to create a network to share fingerprint and mug shot data. The
association represents the state's 1,200 local police jurisdictions, most of which are at the county or township level, with all but four having less than 200 officers.

The New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services and the Division of Probation and Correctional Alternatives are jointly working on a project to implement computerized probation management information
systems in counties.

The results of these and other projects will be seen in many places. Police officers will be safer because they will have instant access to the most up-to-date information about a suspect. Plus the court and corrections process will become much more efficient with the sharing of critical information about criminals.

Thomas R. Davies is vice president of Federal Sources State and Local Government Consulting in McLean, Va. David DeBrandt provided research support.

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