Database finds Mississippi bad guys

Jackson Co., Miss., sheriff's deputy Carl Reinmiller tracked down a suspect using the new Automated Systems Project.

When three Mississippi counties began using the records management component of the statewide Automated Systems Project last month, they soon solved a Jackson County case.

Carl Reinmiller, a Jackson sheriff's deputy, found that a suspect he had been searching for was already in neighboring Harrison County's database. The file included the man's criminal record and contact information. Within minutes, Reinmiller tracked the suspect's movements through various homes and employers in Harrison. The deputy also used the system to generate a photo lineup, with which a witness identified the man.

Less than a month later, the suspect was in police custody.

Wrapping up the case so quickly might not have been possible using Mississippi's paper public safety system. Before this summer, Reinmiller would have had to call every Mississippi sheriff's department for information, hoping that someone would dig through antiquated files to search for the suspect. By automating such processes, the state plans to improve law enforcement throughout Mississippi.

The Automated Systems Project is designed to create a centralized database of criminal and first-responder information for the 32 public safety agencies in four Mississippi counties.

Under a $14 million federal grant, all sheriff's, police, emergency medical and fire departments in Hancock, Harrison, Jackson and Forrest counties will eventually have landline and wireless access to the system. Mississippi's U.S. senators, Thad Cochran and Trent Lott, both Republicans, secured federal funding for the project in 2002. A data center will include mug shots, arrest warrants, criminal intelligence, data on hazardous materials and protocols for reaction to medical emergencies.

'It is critical that all of our first responders have instant access to the critical information that can save lives, speed arrests, and ensure public safety,' said project director Maj. Julian Allen of the Harrison County Sheriff's Department.

The system employs a main data center and a backup location 60 miles away. Each data center uses one IBM eServer iSeries 825 and two eServer xSeries 445 systems running remote-access software from Tarantella Inc. of Santa Cruz, Calif. Applications run under SuSE Linux from Novell Inc., and the database software is DB2 from IBM Corp.

The centers are linked using Mimix middleware from Lakeview Technology Inc. of Oakbrook Terrace, Ill.

State officials also use the Public Safety Software Suite from BellSouth Corp. and InterAct Public Safety Systems Inc. of Asheville, N.C. The package handles operational support for Mississippi first responders and includes computer-aided dispatch, records, fire and personnel management, crime mapping, geographic information systems, warrants and a case management system.

Getting the kinks out

Over the next month, state officials will work through the kinks of the second phase of implementation, adding the Long Beach police and fire departments and the Harrison County Sheriff's Department to the integrated database.

'The problems are primarily populating the database with the right codes and signals, getting all of the user codes in and making sure everyone is trained,' said Chris Alley, chief IT architect for the project.

Software vendors have trained public safety officials from various agencies to use the system. These officials have then gone back to their departments and trained the rest of their staffs.

Bee Schultz, commander of the Long Beach, Miss., police department, took the two-week training and then returned to train her staff over a four-week period. 'There were no problems,' she said. 'They were a little scared of it at first because it's new and we've never had this much technology, but now they scream and holler if the system goes down.'

Dispatchers, who had previously been using phones and fax machines, are especially dependent on the new system, Schultz said.

Police have used the system to track down criminal suspects in neighboring counties' jails. Schultz said it could also be used to piece together clues, such as searching the database to see if similar crimes have taken place in other counties. 'Once we go tri-county here, a criminal ain't going to have a chance,' she said.

The third phase of implementation is on schedule for October, at which point Long Beach police will get remote access to the data center. The county plans to purchase 44 notebook PCs for use in Long Beach squad cars.

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