Bridging data to small jurisdictions

      "The mobility of our criminals is an increasing concern," says Jason Moen, deputy chief of the Auburn (Maine) Police Department. "We have had criminals go on multi-county crime sprees, which can be difficult for an officer to track."

   A CAD and RMS service company took this issue under its wing when it decided to look into whether small- and medium-sized agencies could link these applications across agencies at a low cost.

   That's how Information Management Corp. came up with its answer: Cross Agency Data Sharing.

   Information Management Corp. (IMC) had successfully delivered CAD, RMS and related solutions to law enforcement for years. Now it's new application, Cross Agency Data Sharing. Cross Agency connects IMC customers, their case reports and master names lists using each member department's existing IMC databases. This way, rather than rely on a centralized data repository, agencies can implement the solution with low overhead.

   "A cross-agency search can track a suspect to different parts of the state if that suspect has had police contact," Moen says.

   Cross Agency Data Sharing also allows real-time access to information on whether subjects had contact with other agencies. Officers can see immediately when a name check shows previous offenses, warrants or arrests involving violence or weapons. This is crucial to officer safety, which Mark Pacheco, chief of police in Dartmouth, Mass., says drove the initial decision to try to get agencies integrated. "In one jurisdiction, an officer made a traffic stop on a speeding vehicle," he says. "The officer queried the Cross Agency system and found out the offender was wanted in a neighboring jurisdiction on a domestic violence charge, which had been brought less than an hour previously. He never would've known that otherwise, and he was able to call for backup and make the arrest."

How it works

   Cross Agency operates on a "hub and spoke" system. One department, usually the one with the best connection, hosts the server or the "hub." The others connect as spokes and do not connect directly to each other.

   The "best connection" is a matter of what Leo Hisoire, IMC director of engineering and interim general manager, calls "a solid network infrastructure with quality hardware and good bandwidth." This includes a variety of network types: The state criminal justice information services (CJIS) network, or virtual private networks (VPN) built upon secure broadband cable TV or DSL, or frame relay of at least 56K in speed. (Smaller agencies' VPNs on wireless modem connections can also be used.)

   Cross Agency is one module in IMC's product family, but it does not require the other modules to work. In fact, Cross Agency can be implemented in just a few steps:

   • Develop policies on what data to share, how to use it, and any restrictions. Memorandums of understanding (MOUs) make these shared policies.

   • Choose the hub agency.

   • Set up a secure Internet protocol (IP) connection between each spoke agency and the hub. If agencies use the state CJIS, this security is already built in.

   • Install IMC Mobile software on each agency's computers so individual officers may run their own queries. (Though this is not strictly necessary, as dispatch can still facilitate queries.)

   IMC Cross Agency is installed in 150 agencies in the United States. Although the hubs are not currently linked, Pacheco says this is planned for the future in Massachusetts. "IMC data-sharing technology utilizes IP communications, so state-to-state data sharing is theoretically possible," says Hisoire. More than 760 IMC customers exist, primarily in New England, though the company also has customers in Montana, New Jersey and Florida.

Cross Agency at work

   For the South Eastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council (SEMLEC), the Dartmouth Police Department acts as the regional hub server for 25 IMC-connected law enforcement agencies. The SEMLEC Cross Agency network uses the Massachusetts Criminal History Systems Board's (MCHSB) computer networking infrastructure and hardware, which includes the CJIS network platform. "We think of it as a joint partnership among the [MCHSB] system, IMC software and our neighboring jurisdictions," says Pacheco. In Maine, 34 agencies run IMC with the Cross Agency Module, Moen says. As in Massachusetts, the system runs on the state CJIS hardware platform.

   As one of the first Cross Agency pilot programs in its state, SEMLEC's solution was developed to pull together agencies already using IMC software. "The network is just for IMC 'family' right now because it was easier that way and did not entail additional development costs," Pacheco explains. There have been discussions on linking non-IMC agencies in the future.

   Data security is built into the system on both global and individual agency levels. Agencies remain the proprietors of their own data; officers from other departments have read-only access so they cannot "touch" or change information in any way. A log also exists to check who is accessing the data through the network.

   Hisoire says sometimes the need may arise to query only certain agencies. "Most queries default to all connected agencies," he explains. "But when you do NLETS queries, you can specify a certain region."

   Additionally, security settings can be established for different classes of data. "The Cross Agency name search could take you right into a specific police report or at least a contact name and number for the agency who could then query the report for you," Moen says.

   Cases where the latter approach might be preferable, says Pacheco, include sex offenses or offenses committed by juveniles. It's up to the agency to decide what is appropriate to share, though Pacheco stresses that to reap the system's full benefits, as much data as possible should be open and shared.

Real-time information

   One of IMC Cross Agency's strongest and unique features is its real-time access to data from all other agencies on the network.

   Pacheco explains that an officer queries the system, and the query goes through the department's IMC Mobile Data switch. This in turn connects to the regional hub switch, and is then broadcast to all the other linked departments. Then the responses return through the host regional hub switch and back to the originator.

   IMC's CAD and RMS modules have what are known as "master name" and "case report" files. Master names include gang memberships, known associates, aliases and other relevant information. Advanced master name search is possible, as well, based on NCIC pedigree data. Case files related to master names include incidents, arrests, citations, accidents, field interviews, restraining orders and warrants — and their images.

   This capability came into play for a recent arrest in Auburn. "One of my officers responded to a violation of bail complaint where the suspect was reported to be in the apartment of the domestic abuse victim," Moen says. The officer ran the suspect's name and pulled a recent mugshot photo before arriving at the scene. The officer then spotted the suspect through the apartment window prior to making contact and was quickly able to discredit the victim's claims that the suspect was not inside; a foot pursuit ensued and the suspect was apprehended, Moen explains.

Cost savings

   In Massachusetts, the Cross Agency solution was funded via Department of Homeland Security interoperability grant money. Even so, Pacheco says implementing it was simply a matter of obtaining IMC software licenses, the mobile data switch and the server. Hisoire adds: "The majority of Cross Agency customers have been equipped by grants for regions banding together, but we have had a share of new departments that have purchased the software when they became IMC clients."

   Felicia Donovan, an IMC client services representative, helped implement the Seacoast (N.H.) Cross Agency initiative when she worked for the Portsmouth Police Department. "We attempted to do it as a state-wide initiative several years ago, with more than 40 agencies agreeing to share costs if they were off-set by federal [grants].

   "Unfortunately, the funding never came through," recalls Donovan. "The project languished for a bit, then came back to life on a much smaller scale when Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter spearheaded the funding effort under the COPS grant. While initial project costs are covered by the grant, the MOU between agencies stipulates that future costs will be borne by each individual agency."

   Moen says while a multi-agency DHS grant got the ball rolling in Androscoggin County (where Auburn is located), "annual maintenance fees are minimal compared to the rate of return we are getting on the efficiency behind it." Pacheco agrees: "What price [would] you put on a product that gives you access to real-time, vital information ... during your tour of duty? This could potentially save your life or others' lives. Like the commercial says, 'priceless.'"

   Christa Miller is a freelance writer who specializes in public safety issues. She is based in Greenville, S.C., and can be reached at christammiller@gmail.com.

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