Alabama agencies embrace new system

It's not even a year old, but Alabama's integrated information technology system for courts and law enforcement already has thousands of users.

The idea of combining states' stovepiped criminal justice databases so each agency can access all relevant data is more than a decade old, but real urgency was only injected into the process after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Alabama recently became the latest state to show off the results of its efforts.

The state's new Law Enforcement Tactical System (LETS) portal provides centralized management services, including IT systems administration, to Alabama's courts and partner agencies, such as juvenile and adult probation officers. Police can also access the system through secure Internet links at their offices or homes, or over wireless connections while out in the field.

Since going live on Jan. 15, the system has added about 5,000 users, mainly through word-of-mouth. "It would be disingenuous to say we've been less than ecstatic with the result," said Jim Pritchett, executive director of the Southwest Alabama Integrated Criminal Justice System (SAICS).

LETS has cost between $300,000 and $400,000 so far, according to Pritchett. Future plans include extending the system to neighboring regions and states.

It uses Microsoft Corp.'s SQL Server to aggregate the data on the back end. Alabama's 21 million criminal records were formerly kept in separate IBM Corp. mainframe-based databases, using a mix of file formats such as VSAM, IMS and DB2.

A series of Web applications are used to collect data for such things as the court records systems, juvenile records systems and court referrals, with users accessing data through standard browsers using XML Web services.

Microsoft, which usually keeps track of larger projects that use its technology, in this case simply stumbled on LETS and the Alabama projects, said Martin Pastula, the company's U.S. partner development manager for justice and public safety. "We thought at first it must have been developed using Linux, but found that it had actually all been done through [Microsoft.NET]," he said.

The Alabama system is a good example of how police and other criminal justice organizations are changing around the country, Pastula said. Those agencies officials' historically have tended to keep close tabs on the data owned by each of them, what is shared and who shares it.

People want to preserve those legacy databases but at the same time make it easier for other agencies to share the data, he said.

The market for integrated justice systems is on the verge of exploding, Pastula said, with around six dozen projects nationwide in varying stages of development, and real money at last being released to the states by the federal government.

Brian Robinson is a freelance journalist based in Portland, Ore. He can be reached at [email protected]

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.


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