DEA to roll out booking system

The Drug Enforcement Administration next month plans to launch a long-awaited program to automate the process of booking suspected drug runners.

The agency says it will release in July a request for proposals for the Automated Booking Station-Lite (ABS-Lite) project which will digitize all the information agents collect on individuals who have been arrested including fingerprints and mug shots. DEA officials did not estimate how much the system could cost. Proposals are due back in August and the DEA plans to make an award in October.

ABS-Lite is part of a larger system called the Joint Automated Booking System (JABS) that eventually will link five law enforcement bureaus in the Justice Department. Each of the five bureaus - the DEA the FBI the U.S. Marshals Service the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the Bureau of Prisons - will have a booking system in place that is tied to a central database where information on individuals arrested by each bureau will be stored.

As envisioned the JABS systems would serve as a user's point of entry to DOJ's national systems such as the FBI's Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS) a $589 million system under development that will make searching for and matching fingerprints of wanted criminals easier and faster.

JABS "reduces the amount of time required for booking and eliminates duplicative booking " said Mark Boster Justice's deputy chief information officer. "We can currently book someone three or four times. For instance if they are arrested by the DEA and turned over to the Marshals they must be rebooked. If they are taken to BOP later for detention they will be rebooked. This system will alleviate that " Boster said.

But the DEA plans to make ABS-Lite more than just a data management tool. For example in a typical scenario a DEA agent attempts to book a 25-year-old white male with blue eyes and blond hair. Now if the agent plans to form a photo lineup for a witness to identify the suspect the agent must use the unscientific process of asking other agents for drivers licenses or other photos that fit the suspect's description to show the witness. DEA agents also will have the ability to generate potential matches to photo images extracted from surveillance videos.

With ABS-Lite the DEA plans to tap a database of images that can be retrieved based on physical features and form a virtual line-up. "It would take about 30 seconds and then you wouldn't have to justify it in court " said Bob Patterson unit chief for the DEA's investigative equipment section. "You could just say it was a randomized lineup using images generated by a computer."

The DEA initially will roll out one ABS computer to each of its 21 field offices. The standards for digitizing fingerprints and photos will be set by the JABS procurement and ABS-Lite will follow those standards.The law enforcement bureaus and the Justice Management Division are funding JABS. The management division will likely run a support services contract to get industry help in developing standards. "There are some issues with data and where the data will be resident and we still have to work out interfaces with IAFIS and [the National Crime Information Center] " Boster said.

Automated booking within DOJ seems to hold different meanings for different people according to Tom Reinhardt national account manager for law enforcement systems at Litton/PRC Inc. which reviewed and commented on a DEA ABS-Lite draft proposal. "It all depends on whose seat you're sitting in " he said. "From the investigative standpoint [ABS] has a lot of value. For agencies such the Marshals Service which does a lot of the physical bookings this will be a timesaver. In the eyes of the Justice Management Division it is a way of moving the ball forward in terms of applications of information technology to more tradition-bound practices."

The Justice Management Division last year tested JABS in Miami to further interaction among all the law enforcement bureaus.

An independent study conducted this year by Planning Research Corp. concluded "Early results are very positive." The report is available at www.usdoj.gov/jmd/irm/jabs.Jones is a contributing writer to Federal Computer Week.

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