Kentucky May Pilot Criminal Justice IT System

Kentucky May Pilot Criminal Justice IT System

"My vision is to improve the effectiveness of criminal justice through better information sharing among all its components.:" ?Paul Kendall, Justice Department

By Steve LeSueur Staff Writer

Two new Kentucky initiatives designed to improve information sharing among criminal justice agencies have caught the attention of the Department of Justice, which is considering making one a demonstration project to serve as a model for other states.

"What's unique about Kentucky is the high level of cooperation and collaboration that they've been able to achieve among the different levels of criminal justice from the state down to the cities and municipalities," said Paul Kendall, general counsel for the Office of Justice Programs, which would oversee the project.

One of the most significant projects is a plan to create an "electronic citation." Kentucky's approximately 150 jurisdictions already have agreed to a standardized format for recording arrests and citations.

With the creation of an electronic citation, the standardized information could be entered into computers and automatically shared with the courts, jails, fingerprinting databases, clerks and other offices involved in criminal justice.

"This is not a technological breakthrough, but a breakthrough in cooperation," said Bob Greeves, a policy adviser and independent consultant working with the Office of Justice Programs.

Although it sounds simple, persuading the different criminal justice organizations to agree on a single standard is very difficult, he said.

Such a system would eliminate duplication and errors that result when information must be typed into the forms required by various courts and agencies, said Louis Smith, chief information officer for Kentucky's Justice Cabinet.

A goal would be to get the electronic citation application installed on laptop computers, so that officers in the field could obtain up-to-date information about warrants, arrests and the criminal records of potential suspects, he said.

Another initiative under consideration as a demonstration project is one that would create a set of data standards that Smith calls a "generic bucket," a central pass that formats information such as fingerprints, arrest records and outstanding warrants, so that it can be traded back and forth among the criminal justice departments and agencies.

For example, data from an electronic citation would pass through the generic bucket on the way to the courts and other appropriate offices that use the information.

Smith said Kentucky officials have started planning discussions for these projects, but he could not say when the state would issue requests for proposals to vendors interested in helping to implement these new systems. He would like to get a pilot for one of them up and running by March or April 2000.

Justice officials caution they are still in the preliminary stages of examining the Kentucky projects.

In addition, officials will not know how much federal money is available to help sponsor a project until Congress approves the fiscal year 2000 budget. The officials are scheduled to visit Kentucky this month to discuss the projects with state officials.

Neither Kentucky nor Justice Department officials could say how much money would be required for the state's projects. The Office of Justice Programs awards about $500 million annually in grants for IT projects to assist law enforcement in state and city governments, said Kendall.

Grants generally range between $50,000 and $500,000, but can reach up to $20 million, depending on the size of the government and its project.

Demonstration projects, however, are relatively rare and bring a higher level of involvement by the Office of Justice Programs beyond dollars.

In Kentucky, the Justice Department likely would work with state officials to help shape the project and monitor its progress. Kentucky might also agree to serve as a model site for peer-to-peer technical assistance to other states interested in adopting the design.

"Being a demonstration project raises the profile of a project and makes it a model for best practices," said Kendall. His office is not sponsoring any demonstration projects, but Kendall expressed a desire to do more as a way to spur information sharing initiatives.

"My vision is to improve the effectiveness of criminal justice through better information sharing among all its components," said Kendall.

While Kentucky would like to have federal funding, the state probably will move forward on its own if state and federal officials decide not to make them demonstration projects, said Smith.

Kendall and Smith said the Kentucky projects would complement a study by the National Association of State Information Resource Executives aimed at defining an architecture that allows government organizations to exchange criminal justice files and data.

The Office of Justice Programs is funding that study under a $125,000 grant. NASIRE, a Lexington, Ky.-based organization that represents state chief information officers, will deliver a report at the end of this month. Justice officials are hopeful there will be money to continue the project.

Efforts to integrate criminal justice systems are just one part of a huge thrust by state and local governments to use information technologies in the public safety and criminal justice arenas.

State and local government IT spending on public safety, for example, is projected at $5.88 billion for 1999 and is growing at about 6.9 percent annually, said James Macaulay, a government market analyst with Dataquest, a research arm of the Gartner Group of Stamford, Conn.

State and local government IT spending on criminal justice is projected at $3.36 billion for 1999 and is growing at about 8.5 percent annually, he said.

Public safety includes all law enforcement, fire and emergency medical services. Criminal justice includes courts, corrections, public defenders offices and district attorneys.

Kentucky is not the only state trying to integrate its criminal justice systems, said Justice and industry officials. In Indiana, the state police have put out a request for proposals to integrate their voice and data systems.

Michigan has created a council of criminal justice leaders to develop standards and protocols for information sharing.

"Kentucky is probably ahead of the curve because they've got their people working together, but other states are trying similar things," said Jim Bolger, marketing manager for justice and public safety for TRW Inc., Cleveland.

TRW is one of five full-service partners in Kentucky's Strategic Alliance Services program.

The program puts the company in a prime position to participate in the state's planned criminal justice initiatives.

Kendall agreed that many states are pushing ahead with innovative projects.

"There are a lot of different approaches to achieving integration of criminal justice information systems," Kendall said.

Kentucky's efforts are bolstered by Gov. Paul Patton's (D) strong support for innovative IT projects and by the close working relationship between the state's CIO, Aldona Valicenti, and the state's criminal justice agencies.

"You have all the right ingredients for success," Kendall said.

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