Sheriffs share data, tighten crime net

Sheriffs share data, tighten crime net

BY DREW ROBB | SPECIAL TO GCN

Northwestern Wisconsin is a popular vacation and retirement spot. With its large public forests and hundreds of lakes it is an ideal place for fishermen who want to catch their limit. Now, with the new Regional Crime Information System, at www.nwwrcis.org, in place, it is also easier for the region's county sheriffs to catch criminals.

Work on RCIS began in November 1999 when Washburn County Sheriff Terry Dryden received a grant from Wisconsin's Justice Assistance Office to develop a centralized link to the data held by the region's 10 county sheriff's offices, and two drug and gang task forces.

Need fresh information

Although the sheriffs already could access information about criminals through the state's Time Information Management Enforcement system and the FBI's National Crime Information System, that data was often not current enough for use in the field.

TERRY DRYDEN
'By supplying law enforcement agencies and individuals with the data they need in real time, we can respond quicker to combat crime in our region.'
'WASHBURN SHERIFF TERRY DRYDEN
Because both existing systems only record information after a criminal court conviction, suspects could continue to commit crimes because recent data had not entered.

'We needed the data in real time,' Dryden said. 'If a sheriff is going to arrest someone, he needs to know if that person was just arrested in a neighboring county on a weapons charge before he goes to the suspect's house.'

To set up a real-time system, he turned to Emerald Systems Inc. of Spooner. But a mishmash of systems stood in the way. Washburn County, for example, ran Microsoft Windows NT on a client-server system; neighboring counties ran an IBM AS/400 mainframe.

The basic RCIS architecture, therefore, includes a series of utilities for use at each law enforcement agency and county site. These utilities were written by Emerald in Visual Basic and Java.

The utilities extract certain data fields, such as name, arrest date, release date and charges, out of the full reports as the reporting officer enters them into the local system.

These extracts are then placed into separate files on the agency's server. Once or twice a day, this information is uploaded via File Transfer Protocol to the central RCIS Operational Data Store (ODS) through an Internet connection that uses Secure Sockets Layer. All these actions take place without user intervention.

RCIS runs under Windows NT 4.0 on a dual-processor server hosted by Emerald. The server also runs Microsoft Internet Information Server. The ODS is a Microsoft SQL Server 7.0 database. The system extracts data from the ODS and formats it for display on a browser using Microsoft Active Server Page and ActiveX Data Objects technology.

Track 'em down

When members of RCIS' participating agencies need information about someone, they securely log on to the system via the Internet to find it and, if necessary, contact a county for complete reports on specific incidents.

RCIS began operating late last year. The Rusk County Sheriff's Department rapidly located and arrested suspects residing in a neighboring county and brought them to trial.

Besides the crime databases, RCIS includes a secure messaging system that lets officials share information easily across agencies in different counties. Also, it hosts Web sites to increase citizen interaction.

Four of the 10 participating counties are online already. The rest are due to go online shortly, Dryden said.

After that, the next step is to integrate RCIS with the city of Eau Claire police department's systems; Wisconsin's juvenile justice information system, Juvenet; and other sheriffs' departments.

'Once everyone is online we will see a huge benefit,' says Dryden. 'By supplying law enforcement agencies and individuals with the data they need in real time, we can respond quicker to combat crime in our region.'

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