Texas County Opening Tech-Savvy Justice Center

Harris County, Texas, will open its Criminal Justice Center building on Jan. 10 with a high-speed Gigabit Ethernet and Asynchronous Transfer Mode network that will serve the more than 12,000 users of the county's criminal justice courts and supporting services.

The Criminal Justice Center building required new infrastructure, wiring and fiber. Harris County chose the Omni Switch/Router from Alcatel S.A., a networking company based in Paris, France, to develop the network. The infrastructure in the building has been ready since November, and users of the new system have been moving in for the last few weeks, said Nick Chapman, division chief of computer operations and network services for the Harris County Central Technology Center Department.

The county needed the any-to-any capabilities, integrated security and integrated wide-area network to accommodate the heavy usage expected of the system, Chapman said. "Everything's looking good, and the people are really looking forward to it going live on Monday," he said.

Harris County's justice system, which is spread throughout hundreds of buildings, is expected to benefit from the new network because it integrates the flow of voice, data and computer images. The public-safety community, county court dockets, emergency 911 responses and the current information in the Justice Information Management System — which is used by local, state and federal law enforcement agencies — will all be tied into the network.

Harris County moved to a switched network and signed a three-year, $3 million contract with Alcatel for installation and support.

"This has been an ongoing project taking about 2 years," Chapman said. "All the criminal justice courts will be concentrated in the new building, and all of the support people will also be there, from the court offices to the district attorney's offices."

The migration from "dumb terminals" in some departments to PCs was the only cause of hesitation in the transition, Chapman said. But most departments already used PCs, and the new building will use intelligent workstations exclusively, he added.

Chapman said there are plans for a Civil Justice Center in Harris County to mirror the new criminal justice model. He said he expects that facility to be ready "in the next two or three years."

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