Successfully linking law enforcement data between multiple agencies in South Carolina has become a reality, and a helpful one at that. Quick access to records and warrants is saving all involved departments time and investigative manpower, and clearing hundreds of warrants monthly.
In South Carolina's Low Country, three sheriff's departments and three municipal police departments have developed a secure information sharing system to share information across jurisdictional boundaries. Originally called the Low Country Information Technology Improvement Project (ITIP), it connects each member agency's records management system (RMS) via redundant, high-speed lines that end at the site of a central data warehouse to which all agencies have access. Each jurisdiction maintains and controls its own RMS, which cannot be modified through the ITIP network.
1The first six participating agencies — the Charleston, North Charleston and Mount Pleasant police departments, and the sheriff's departments of Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester Counties — serve coastal Carolina, a 3,200 square-mile area that 540,000 call home. With the original project serving as a model, the project is in the process of expanding statewide via the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED). No longer called ITIP, the project is now integrated into the statewide South Carolina Information Exchange (SCIEx).
Laying down plans
Most agencies need assistance, whether it's financial or technical, to launch a project like ITIP. One organization that's available to help is the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center (NLECTC), which is a program of the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) and acts as the "honest broker" of technology information and assistance to state and local law enforcement.
Coleman Knight, deputy director with NLECTC-Southeast in Charleston, South Carolina, notes that in integrating information systems, agencies must be able to expand their comfort zone to permit their neighbors to access sensitive and secure data. He hopes the SCIEx system will one day serve as a model for information sharing across the United States. But because data sharing is such a sensitive area, the overarching policy of an integrated system must conform to and enhance the policies of the individual agencies. And this takes time.
Developing and implementing ITIP, according to Knight, was approximately a three-year process. First, the plan's creation took the better part of a year. Then, armed with a solid proposal, it took approximately six to eight months for funding to be approved (through a COPS grant) then another 10 months waiting for funding to come through. Throughout the process, chief executive officers from all contributing agencies, acting as a governance body, met several times per year to set policies regarding information ownership. They adopted NCIC rules and regulations for information sharing, which are considered to be the federal standard. Each agency CEO appointed an individual to represent the agency on a working group, which handles the technical issues on a daily basis. The working group met monthly or as often as needed to make sure all were on board with the technology.
Evolution to open source
The initial proprietary system, called Informant, was developed by a subcontractor for Scientific Research Corp. (SRC) in the late 1990s. When the original agencies attempted to add their information to the system, it was determined the cost of tailoring it to each agency was too high. SRC looked toward the open-source alternative and decided to invest in converting the project to open source, eliminating the ongoing licensing fees. According to Becky Olsen, project manager, in SRC's Charleston, South Carolina, division, "We have now converted that system to one that's completely an open-source data sharing system." SRC's underlying system, used to establish and run the information sharing warehouse, has been named the Law Enforcement Automated Data Repository (LEADR) system.