A longer arm of the law
- By Dibya Sarkar
- Apr 02, 2001
In rural northwest Wisconsin, a region not immune to drug trafficking and
gang activity, a dozen law enforcement agencies have created a Web-based
system to share information in real time to enhance criminal investigations.
The Regional Crime Information System (RCIS) ties disparate computer
systems together and automatically uploads data from participating agencies'
servers into a central data store. The information is compiled, stored for
Internet retrieval and archived.
Officers from different counties share five databases — general crime,
juvenile, domestic violence, drug and jail information. Before, this type
of information wasn't shared in real time, but rather was only available
days, weeks or months later, said Sheriff Terry Dryden of Washburn County,
who was active in developing RCIS.
He said recently RCIS was instrumental in locating the mother in a child
abuse case. Though he could not divulge details, he said an investigator
from neighboring Rusk County was looking for the child's mother, but neither
his agency nor the child's elementary school had any information regarding
In the past, Dryden said the investigator would have probably phoned
a number of law enforcement agencies or searched the state or federal computer
systems, which are not always up-to-date.
"So he runs the name in RCIS, and lo and behold, we just had her the
week before in our jail and with a current telephone number and address,"
Dryden said. "That probably saved that investigator two or three days. The
best significant feature of this whole thing is that it's real time."
Covering 40,000 square miles with a population of 250,000, northwest
Wisconsin has seen an increase in drug and gang activity, Dryden said. A
regional shared database would help facilitate better coordination among
agencies in investigating and solving such crimes, he said.
Dryden and another sheriff started talking about a shared system about
three years ago, primarily to share prisoner information and transfers.
They had heard about Emerald Systems Inc.'s JUV E NET, an information sharing
system between a Duluth, Minn., police department and Arrowhead Regional
Corrections, a five-county corrections group in northeastern Minnesota.
Based on negotiations with the agencies, Wisconsin-based Emerald Systems,
in partnership with Microsoft Corp., helped develop the framework for RCIS
(www.nwwrcis.org), which will be shared by the 10 county sheriff's departments
and two regional drug/gang task forces.
A pilot project with two counties went online last summer. Emerald Systems
added another two counties recently and will bring on the remainder of the
law enforcement agencies over the next several months, said Emerald CEO
Phil Brandsey. "This is the first of its kind in the state," he added.
Users need a log-in name and password for the Windows NT 4.0-based system.
The system has five levels of security, restricting users to certain databases
as determined by a sheriff. In addition to the private, secure site, there
is also a public site with access to jail information and links to participating
In the future, Dryden said he'd like to see schools, social service
agencies, parole and probation agencies, and law enforcement tied to RCIS.
He said the system should also be linked to the state's court and district
attorney's computer system.