Data sharing tightens net for the law

Data sharing tightens net for the law

Agencies put criminal justice data online for sharing

BY TRUDY WALSH | GCN STAFF

Police, courts and corrections departments in two areas'San Diego and Pennsylvania'are learning to share.

San Diego County's Automated Regional Justice Information Systems pulls together information from 38 state, local and federal law enforcement agencies. ARJIS merges data from all the agencies into one Web site, at www.arjis.org. The system's secure intranet, called ARJISNet, pools information from the 10,000 or so police, court and corrections officials who are registered to use it. A virtual private network, ARJISNet protects the data by a series of firewalls and assigned passwords.


Pam Scanlon, director of San Diego's integrated justice system, ARJIS, says the system proves the value of sharing crime information among agencies. ARJIS users report that 65 percent of the data they need to solve crimes comes from other agencies.
ARJISNet feeds more than 2,500 PCs over a secure TCP/IP network throughout the 4,265 square miles of San Diego County. The site handles about 35,000 transactions daily, said Pam Scanlon, ARJIS executive director.

The site runs on a Sun Microsystems Ultra 10 server with a 440-MHz UltraSparc processor nicknamed Lacey after a character on a 1980s TV cop show. ARJIS also contains a public area where anyone can find statistical crime information, most-wanted lists and interactive crime maps. The public information runs off a second Sun Ultra 10 server nicknamed'you guessed it'Cagney.

Before ARJIS went on the Web, criminal justice agencies throughout the county built their own separate data islands with few links to other sources of information, Scanlon said. The data resided on systems that ranged from 30-year-old Cobol-coded mainframes to newer client-server setups.

ARJIS became a Web venture in 1998, when the county won a grant from the National Institute of Justice, the R&D branch of the U.S. Justice Department, to integrate its law enforcement data.

Now ARJIS uses Informant middleware from Templar Corp. of Alexandria, Va., to hook all the disparate databases to the Web servers. Armed with PC and browser, a user types in 'Joe Smith.' Informant queries the 38 agencies' databases and serves up any related data in a few seconds.

Chipping in for apps

An important factor in ARJIS' success has been the cooperation of the law enforcement agencies, Scanlon said. Each agency sends a representative to monthly meetings. 'Everybody comes to the table,' she said. 'Everybody has a vote.' Small local police agencies are just as important as larger ones at the meetings, she said.

And when agencies work together, they divide the costs together, Scanlon said. 'Our mapping application costs about $200,000, a bit steep for smaller law enforcement shops,' she said. 'But it becomes affordable when you split it 38 ways.'

ARJIS players share standards, as well as data. Participating agencies use the California Justice Department's network standards for firewalls, audit requirements and TCP/IP addressing. The crime mapping portion uses Spatial Data Engine geographic information system tools from Environmental Systems Research Institute of Redlands, Calif.

ARJIS Diagram
San Diego County's ARJIS links databases from 38 agencies to the Web via Informant middleware, which provides criminal data in seconds.
ARJIS' crime incident databases are updated every 24 hours, Scanlon said. Information from 911 calls is loaded every 15 minutes.

In spite of their need for cooperation, law enforcement agencies are among the most territorial, said Linda Rosenberg, director of Pennsylvania's integrated justice network, JNET.

'The system is set up so it creates little fiefdoms of law enforcement,' Rosenberg said. 'Law enforcement agencies are under the judicial branch and the executive branch. You don't have one organization that oversees both sides of the fence. County and municipal police often don't report to states. No one person is in charge.'

One of the first things Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge did when he took office in 1996 was launch a system that would integrate the criminal justice process from arrest to parole. State officials began shopping for a system, but in 1996 all the vendors wanted to build enormous data warehouses, Rosenberg said. That would have required agencies to surrender some of their independent ownership of law enforcement data.

'Telling police, 'You will do this, you will conform,' doesn't work too well,' Rosenberg said.

Much like ARJIS, the JNET team decided to link existing law enforcement databases with middleware via the Web. This way, agencies could leverage their existing systems over a secure TCP/IP network, Rosenberg said.

Legal links

JNET officials decided on Fiorano MQ messaging middleware from Fiorano Software Inc. of Los Gatos, Calif., to connect databases from the Corrections Department, the Probation and Parole Board, the Pennsylvania Courts Administrative Office, the State Police and the Transportation Department.

Users can submit one name to the JNET Web site, and it will query the five agencies' databases in a few seconds. Although the data might reside on a Unisys Corp. mainframe in Cobol, the user will see it in Hypertext Markup Language via the browser.

JNET stores mug shots, Pennsylvania DOT photos, and images of tattoos and other distinguishing marks. In one recent incident Philadelphia police caught a rapist by searching JNET. The victim described the perpetrator's tattoo to the police. Police queried JNET with the description and sure enough, JNET had a record of the offender, who was arrested and convicted.

JNET also had to be secure. 'If there was any kind of doubt about security, the agencies wouldn't participate,' Rosenberg said.

Unlike ARJIS, JNET omits a public interface. It is 100 percent dedicated to law enforcement use. JNET officials decided to run the network on a full-blown public-key infrastructure developed by VeriSign Inc. of Mountain View, Calif. Pennsylvania itself acts as the certificate authority, said Dave Woolfenden, JNET's chief architect and a consultant with KPMG LLP of New York.

JNET Diagram
An integrated network serves up secured law enforcement data through a mix of PKI security, middleware and legacy databases. Each law enforcement department keeps control of its databases.


All JNET users are assigned a digital certificate that encrypts their credentials and lets them access appropriate areas of the network. Auditors from the CyberSecurity Center, a security organization affiliated with Carnegie Mellon University of Pittsburgh, recently performed a security audit on JNET and found the infrastructure to be 'very secure and in outstanding condition.'

Almost 2,000 users in 16 Pennsylvania agencies and 67 counties access JNET, Rosenberg said.

Rosenberg and JNET report to Charles Gerhards, Pennsylvania's chief information officer, not a criminal justice agency. JNET's servers and other hardware are housed in the state's Information Technology Office. The Governor's Administration Office funds the program.

JNET even has what Rosenberg described as 'a killer app.' When anyone on probation is arrested, JNET immediately kicks off a special e-mail or pager alert that notifies state and county agencies. In the past two years, JNET has made 2,500 notifications of probationers' arrests, Rosenberg said.

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