A longer arm of the law

Wisconsin law enforcement agencies succeed with online data links

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

her whereabouts.

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

agencies.

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.

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