When asked the question, "What business is law enforcement in?" a typical response may include: The business of catching criminals, preventing crime, keeping a community safe, maintaining order, upholding the law or a variety of other answers. The business of information, however, is an answer that would most likely not be on the list.
In the mind of Lafourche Parish (Louisiana) Sheriff Craig Webre, law enforcement is a major player in this industry. "Stripping it down to its bare essentials, law enforcement is in the information business," says Webre.
"Every minute of every day, information is created, cataloged, developed, used to apprehend and prosecute criminals, and stored, assimilated and retrieved. For us to have as much information as we have and not to be able access it in a meaningful way is really an exercise in futility by stuffing filing cabinets full of paper that never sees the light of day."
This isn't trivial information either. The types of information and records stored within databases keep officers safe, allow for better efficiency in policing, aid in investigations and ensure offenders don't slip through the cracks. These are a few reasons why information sharing can be such a valuable tool when extended to officers outside the department.
It's no doubt that effective participation in information sharing has been met with some significant hurdles to overcome. Meeting these challenges and moving beyond to provide a quick, comprehensive and easy-to-use information sharing system, the Baton Rouge, Louisiana, company, Thinkstream, offers a variety of tools to help law enforcement excel in the business of information.
Information sharing up and running
Noted as being one of the greatest advances in law enforcement electronic technology to date by Webre, he believes Thinkstream may be the best way to effectively deploy information sharing. Used as the Lafourche Parish Sheriff's Office's primary search tool for the past 2 1/2 years, Thinkstream has been providing Lafourche Parish with the ability to acquire more detailed criminal histories because of access to surrounding agencies' databases. "Every patrol officer has at their fingertips — through a single, one-time inquiry database — a wealth of information that helps them to do their jobs," says Webre. Currently Lafourche Parish is connected to 25 agencies in its region, and Webre estimates throughout Louisiana there are about 100 more.
Capt. Bobby Baker and the Ouachita Parish Sheriff's Office also has implemented Thinkstream as an information sharing system in a 14-parish hub. Primarily used by dispatchers and in the investigative division, Baker states that Thinkstream made it simpler to do searches over numerous databases within the state of Louisiana and throughout the country. Since May of 2005, Ouachita has deployed Thinkstream in its patrol cars and detective vehicles. "Thinkstream has enabled us to catch numerous felons because it is easier for the officers to run more inquires than call over the radio," says Baker.
Thinkstream flows information
Thinkstream acts as a front-end application where users type in specific information and execute a search that queries all connected databases and returns the results. "It really, in its simplest terms, is a huge search engine," explains Webre. "Although it's not a perfect analogy, it's similar to using Google or MSN. Typing a phrase, word or term and executing a search reaches many different locations and returns hits."
Thinkstream allows users to do a single query and search multiple disparate databases within the criminal justice system. Historically, officers would have had to do separate queries to mine each database. "From an officer standpoint, it simplifies the query process," says Webre. Mike Malone, Thinkstream chief technology officer, points out a user can tap into NLETS, NCIC, state criminal histories, and all of the local systems across the state to provide criminal history background searches, searches for warrants, jail records, jail status, probation status, disposition from past cases and more. Additionally, Thinkstream can move records from one agency to another or collect electronic reports from the field and integrate them into a database.