Solving true crimes
Television dramas have contributed to the public’s perception that high-speed chases and shoot-outs thwart lawbreakers. However, in reality, most crimes are solved by sharing information. Terrorist attacks are disrupted when authorities analyze information from all available sources and connect critical information. Accurate, timely and relevant information is vital to deterring, preventing and investigating crime.
To improve the way police, prosecutors, courts and other criminal justice organizations communicate, the Global Justice Information Sharing Initiative, a federal advisory committee to the U.S. Attorney General, formulated an Extensible Markup Language (XML) that helps agencies exchange electronic information stored in different formats. However, to send and receive information coded with XML, the agencies must program complicated interfaces to adapt their existing systems.
Some are choosing instead to use “adapter” software that can rapidly code data with XML tags and translate different formats for virtually any system. Adapters reduce custom programming and convert information so it can be analyzed and disseminated in computer-aided dispatch, records management, court case management and offender tracking systems.
Several law enforcement and judicial agencies, including the Colorado Department of Corrections, the Arizona Department of Public Safety and the Missouri State Highway Patrol, are using adapter software to share information quickly about criminal activities, repeat offenders and criminal histories. Iowa has used the technology to pull information from several sources and publish pre-sentencing recommendation reports for judges 72 hours before offenders’ sentencing hearings.
New York City’s public safety portal — developed by the city’s Criminal Justice Coordinator and others with the city’s police department in July 2006 — links 17 agencies across six counties, all of whom can share information about arrests, arraignments, convictions and releases. For example, through the portal, a detective investigating a pattern of robberies can be notified immediately following the arrest of a person matching a perpetrator’s description anywhere in the city; or an assistant district attorney in the Bronx can automatically receive an e-mail when a defendant, for whom he is about to offer a plea bargain, is arrested in Queens.
Before the portal was created, the agencies used a variety of programs to exchange information with each other, but there was a delay between the time the events happened and the time the information was exchanged. Also, while they might receive all the same information, it was not well-organized or easy to use. New York is measuring the improvements from the portal, such as shortened time to arraignments after arrest, to make adaptations before expanding its use.
Having real-time crime analysis to formulate a rapid response to dangerous criminal behavior on a local, regional or national level is no longer a TV fantasy. Adapter technology is helping protect communities and reduce misinformed justice decisions, much like the outcomes portrayed in prime time.
The author is manager of justice programs for New York-based Information Builders.