Homeland security focuses coordination

Although sharing information among the courts, the police and other justice agencies at every level of government has been a goal of dedicated individuals and organizations for the past several years, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks have given the issue a renewed national scope, several government officials said last week.

The attacks, they say, highlighted the lack of information exchange and underscored the importance of improved coordination among agencies to prevent future terrorist attacks.

At the 2002 SEARCH Integrated Justice Information Systems Symposium last week in Washington, D.C., government and industry officials discussed how to bring about that change.

"The public really does think we have this capability," said J. Patrick McCreary, special assistant in the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Assistance, which co-developed the symposium. "This new culture that we're realizing is a fundamental new way of doing business."

SEARCH, the National Consortium for Justice Information and Statistics, is a nonprofit group based in Sacramento, Calif.

The symposium's goal was to provide state and local jurisdictions with insight into how information sharing could be improved through better governance, planning, standards and technology.

Regardless of the jurisdiction, the issues surrounding information exchange are universal, said David Roberts, deputy executive director of SEARCH.

Although policy and governance issues can hinder information exchange, he said people shouldn't dismiss the role of technology either. "Technology is an issue," Roberts said, referring to outdated government systems. "It's not the sole issue, and it's not the solution."

Richard Nedelkoff, director of the Bureau of Justice Assistance, said the federal government is showing its support by providing $750 million to state and local governments for justice information systems. "Just seven years ago, we spent approximately $50 million in a $1 billion budget," said Nedelkoff, who has worked for various city, county and state governments developing criminal justice programs.

Nedelkoff and Aldona Valicenti, Kentucky's chief information officer and the symposium's keynote speaker, highlighted numerous national and state proj.ects that are under way to promote information sharing.

"It has grown because the interest is there," Valicenti said of information sharing. "It has grown because the situation is probably more critical now than ever before." As an example of integrated information, she showed the audience a box of candy, which included nutritional information and a bar code that can track it from factory to purchase.

"Astounding," she said. "What do we know about a criminal? Do we know as much? Do we know less?"

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