Terrorism spurs law enforcement cooperation

Terrorism spurs law enforcement cooperation

Max Schlueter, director of Vermont's Criminal Information Center, says almost all of the state's police departments benefit from updated systems.

With an increased need to share crime data, FBI intensifies efforts to get police departments to join national reporting system

The nation's defense against terrorism starts on the local level. And its success could depend on law enforcement officials embracing the idea of information sharing not as an intrusion into bureaucratic fiefdoms, but as a large piece in the puzzle of combating international crime.

This is why the Justice Department, and especially the FBI, is urging states to adopt a better crime reporting system. The National Incident Based Reporting System (NIBRS) slowly is taking hold within several states and improving both crime data and analysis.

'There is a greater sense of urgency now,' said Thom Rubel, the National Governors Association's program director for information technology. 'Certain sets of information will become a priority and that information will be exchanged. The issue many states face is the fractured nature of the jurisdictions and how they share information.'

The FBI and many state and local authorities hope NIBRS becomes the key that unlocks the door to information sharing across all levels of government.

'What is happening across the country is a movement toward integrated justice systems,' said Max Schlueter, director of the Vermont Criminal Information Center. 'There needs to be a high level of cooperation among federal, state and local agencies to benefit from the efficiencies and accuracies that come from having such a shared system.'

NIBRS, which dates back to 1987 as a replacement for the Uniform Crime Reporting system, collects 53 data elements on 46 criminal offenses. UCR collects information on only seven offenses, and then only the basics of each crime such as the type of crime, and the gender, race and age of the perpetrator.

'NIBRS is helping local police departments into the 21st century, as technology goes,' said Gary Lopez, a planning specialist for the Connecticut Crimes Analysis Unit in the Public Safety Department. 'NIBRS funding is providing updated computers and advanced relational databases for all local police departments and that makes the information much more potent.'

NIBRS data provides local, state and federal authorities with detailed information to spot crime trends. It can get as specific as the number of robberies committed by women on Tuesdays between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m., Lopez said.

But only 16 percent of the population is covered by NIBRS with another 13 percent coming online soon. And many large cities such as Detroit, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., do not use the system, said Chris Enourato, the FBI's NIBRS coordinator.

Mostly rural areas

In all, 22 states are certified to report NIBRS data to the FBI, he added. The vast majority of the areas reporting NIBRS data are rural, which explains why NIBRS covers so little of the population.

States are considered certified if they can transmit NIBRS data to the FBI by magnetic tape and if there is less than a 1-percent error rate in the data when the FBI audits the information.

But certification does not take into account whether every city, town and county reports data or just three of the smallest jurisdictions report data to the state.

To transmit data in the proper format, county, city and town police departments must have the software to report and collect the data, and the state must have a repository to assemble all the local information and send it to the FBI.

'Many major metro areas have put millions of dollars into computer-aided dispatch systems and to make the change to meet all of the NIBRS categories is too costly,' Schlueter said. 'Most systems may collect most of the data, but not all and the cities are waiting until it is time to update their systems before switching to one that meets the NIBRS qualifications. It is happening, but slowly.'

It's good for you

Enourato sees the slow shift of the local police departments and is working to convince of them of NIBRS' usefulness and necessity.

'We are still collecting the same data that we have for the past 100 years,' Enourato said. 'We are trying to mine the data to show the benefits of coming on board. We realize it is cumbersome to design and put the system together, but we think states will see how useful the information is.'

Vermont's police departments can attest to the benefits of NIBRS, Schlueter said. About 92 percent of them use the system, making Vermont one of the most advanced jurisdictions in the country.

NIBRS lets almost all of Vermont's law enforcement agencies share data in real time by connecting to a database.

'We are different from most states because we have our own computer-aided dispatch system,' Schlueter said. 'We purchased the statewide system and delivered it to the small police departments around the state to bring them online. Now, from any desktop computer, officers can see the same data and know what is happening around the state.'

Vermont uses Force, a computer-aided dispatch and records management system, from Spillman Technologies Inc. of Logan, Utah. The software runs on Sun Microsystems Solaris servers and users can connect to the database through Web browsers.

Local departments enter data into the system, which the state collects and sends to the FBI. The FBI compiles the data and returns it in a nonrelational database, letting state officials conduct further evaluations.

Schlueter said the FBI updates the data when new information about a case is uncovered, and most state repositories do not have that capability.

'The information we collect and the FBI returns allows local and state police departments to do their jobs better,' Schlueter said. 'Investigative work, projections and trend-spotting are all enhanced by this data. The data provides for a more proactive form of policing.'

State police officials use the information to see interstate and intrastate trends such as rashes of highway rest area robberies or how crime flows from one jurisdiction to another.

Connecticut and New York are not quite up to par with Vermont but are making strides in getting NIBRS running.

Lopez said Connecticut's five largest cities are committed to using the system. Hartford, Bridgeport and New Britain received a $380,000 grant from the Justice Department to write a request for proposals for a records management system with NIBRS capabilities.

In New York, 15 percent of all law enforcement departments report NIBRS statistics, said Jan Whitaker, New York incident-based reporting program manager.

Funds needed

Whitaker said the state is migrating from a mainframe system to a client-server setup, running Solaris and Oracle8i, to more easily process information from the local to the state level.

States have not jumped on the NIBRS bandwagon as quickly as they could have because of the lack of federal, and even state, funding, Enourato said.

But the Justice Statistics Bureau handed out $21 million in NIBRS grants in June, and states receive other funds through any number of Justice programs, such as the Violence Against Women and National Criminal History Improvement Program.

Enourato also said his office put a NIBRS implementation handbook and cost model online to assist states in making the transition.

As more states adopt NIBRS, officials said they expect information sharing and resource coordination to improve.

'Ever since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, we are looking at information sharing on a more global basis,' Enourato said. 'NIBRS can be the tool to make sharing easier and make the information more relevant.'

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