Calling all cars

New Jersey works on system to share crime data

In the next year, New Jersey State Police officials hope to have most county and local law enforcement officials connected to a statewide searchable system that collects, analyzes and shares criminal and terrorism-related information.

The Statewide Intelligence Management System (SIMS) began two years ago and cost about $2 million in state and federal funds. It is developing a culture of information sharing among law enforcement agencies statewide, police officials say.

They recently purchased a statewide license from Memex, which developed the underlying SIMS technology, to push the software beyond its 1,100 users, including state intelligence analysts and county prosecutors' offices from 200 participating agencies. About 33,000 police and law enforcement officials work for 650 municipal, county, federal and state agencies in New Jersey, state officials say.

Police saw a need for information sharing after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Now, the technology enables participating agencies to retain ownership of their data while also sharing it, officials said.

SIMS replaced an antiquated mainframe system that simply indexed information, essentially helping investigators find paper files, said Capt. Steve Serrao, chief of the State Police Counter-Terrorism Bureau. The Memex technology addressed the state's need for a full text entry and retrieval system with data-mining capabilities that could be accessed via a wide-area network, he said.

"It has drastically changed the way we handle intelligence information because we've taken an aggressive position that collecting the information is important, but disseminating it is even more important," Serrao said. He helped research, procure, design and develop the system.

Robert Kim Wilson, Memex's chief executive officer, said the technology is available through a Web-based application adapted for remote and mobile users and a client-based application, which provides greater functionality. Users can query the system using Boolean or proximity searches, and the software displays textual and graphic responses, he said. Additionally, each piece of data that is entered into the system is subjected to a validation or authentication process.

The state has developed about 18 datasets for the system, including intelligence reporting, about a dozen open-source databases and the highly successful tips and leads database which allows police and residents to enter information about possible suspicious criminal or terrorist activity. There are about 8,000 leads in the system, and about 4,000 are added every year, Serrao said.

New Jersey State Police Lt. John Menafra, who oversees SIMS, said the state has developed another database that allows police who patrol the maritime environment to post tips and leads on illegal dumping and other criminal activity on SIMS.

He said the system has led to numerous success stories. Users can search for nicknames, tattoos and modus operandi. For example, Menafra said that if a user knows how a crime was committed, words describing it can be typed into the system, which will return a list of possible suspects and similar scenarios.

Officials said users can even enter data into SIMS about an event or activity in which an arrest has not yet been made, information that might prove valuable at a later time. The system helps investigators spot or link pieces of information that appear disparate but are actually related, they said.

Serrao said officials want to link SIMS with police agencies' records management systems, adding that they are in talks with one county to accomplish that goal. But he said linking to every agency is a gigantic technological undertaking because the state's 650 law enforcement agencies essentially have 650 types of records management systems.

Menafra said New Jersey officials are planning to share SIMS regionally with other state and federal agencies.

"The SIMS initiative has taken off and everybody wants to be a part of it, and no one wants to be the last person involved," Menafra said.

Expanding the network

New Jersey State Police and the state's Office of Counter-Terrorism plan to expand the Statewide Intelligence Management System beyond New Jersey's borders. Officials mentioned several state and federal agencies that are potential participants. They include:

  • Pennsylvania State Police.
  • Delaware State Police.
  • New York State Police.
  • The Baltimore Police Department.
  • The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
  • The U.S. Coast Guard.
  • Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
  • The Drug Enforcement Administration.
  • The FBI.
  • The Federal Air Marshal Service.
  • The Office of Naval Intelligence.
  • Source: New Jersey State Police

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