Florida police make data-sharing progress

State officials want to link Tallahassee, Fort Myers and Miami with other regional networks

Florida law enforcement officials are preparing for the second phase of a 15-month project to create a single statewide information-sharing system by linking several regional ones.

Florida Department of Law Enforcement officials will release a requirements document for developing information-sharing systems for the Tallahassee, Fort Myers and Miami regions and the FDLE.

Those systems will eventually link to four regional information-sharing systems, or nodes. Using their own systems, Florida law enforcement officials will be able to electronically access data from more than 400 local police agencies and sheriff’s offices.

“This has the potential to be a model for the rest of the nation,” said Martin Zaworski, manager and domain expert on homeland defense and domestic security at Unisys, which won a state contract to map data during the project’s first phase.

FDLE officials have been leading the Florida Law Enforcement Exchange (FLEX) project to map data, establish new regional information-sharing systems, develop middleware to connect all the regional systems and then enhance the systems with a sophisticated analytical and visualization application.

Mark Zadra, chief of investigations at FDLE’s Office of Statewide Intelligence and the project’s leader, said department officials want state and local authorities to access potentially critical data — such as local warrants, field interview reports, accident reports, pawn tickets and incident reports — stored in local agencies’ systems.

Participants will also have access to data from other state law enforcement components, including the FDLE’s investigative division, Highway Patrol, Fire Marshal, Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and Consumer Services Division.

FLEX is a three-phase project. In Phase 1, which is nearing completion, officials are mapping the type and location of the data among the statewide system and the seven regional ones.

Unisys is partnering with Ohio-based Sypherlink, which is using its automated metadata discovery and mapping software to develop a state metadata model. That model will conform to the Global Justice XML Data Model (GJXDM) standard, which is a national Extensible Markup Language standard designed for exchanging criminal justice data.

Not all regional information-sharing systems are GJXDM-compliant. Officials first needed to find out what kind of data each network captured and then implement a common language to share the data. The GJXDM standard serves as that common language. XML is an open standard or translator that systems can use to communicate with one another.

Regional information sharing will enable a police officer to log on to the Tampa Bay Security Network, which uses Coplink technology, to access data from the Law Enforcement Information Exchange located in the Jacksonville area, for example. The Florida Integrated Network for Data Exchange and Retrieval system, which many law enforcement agencies in central Florida and elsewhere use, became GJXDM-compliant last year.

“The goal is let’s make everyone Global Justice-compliant because that’ll provide a common vocabulary from region to region that people can understand,” said James Paat, Sypherlink’s president and chief executive officer.

Paat said the plan is to build a reusable knowledge base, which state officials can use to locate data elements and share them among all the nodes. The knowledge base lets them see what data elements aren’t currently shareable but should be in the future.

Paat said Sypherlink’s technology will reduce implementation time and costs and enable officials to understand what information is available from multiple sources. They will also be able to find links between multiple data sources.

By August, FDLE officials hope to award a contract to develop new information-sharing systems for the three regions and FDLE for the second phase of the project. Afterward, the department will issue a solicitation for creating the FLEX middleware or transport mechanism, which will enable the connections among the nodes.

Zadra said part of the project is complex and would likely require a customized solution. He said the systems must have an audit capability to ensure that administrators can track users throughout the systems and ensure that they do not abuse them.

Phase 3 will involve implementing a high-end analytical and visualization application to sift through disparate pieces of data and create investigative leads. Zadra hopes that by spring 2007 most of the project will be complete.

He said state officials received $10 million in 2005 from the federal government and expect to get more federal funding by the end of May.

He said not all of that money is earmarked for FLEX. Officials will also use the funds to expand the current regional information-sharing systems and pay maintenance and licensing fees.

Information exchange in the Sunshine StateThe Florida Law Enforcement Exchange — or FLEX — is designed to connect seven regional information-sharing systems into a statewide one, allowing local authorities in more than 400 local police agencies and sheriff’s offices to gain access to data previously unavailable to them.

The regional systems are:

  • The Criminal Information and Intelligence Exchange SmartCop in the northwest. The region has a population of about 956,000 people.

  • The Law Enforcement Information Exchange in the northeast, which serves 2.1 million people.

  • The Florida Integrated Network for Data Exchange and Retrieval system in the central part of the state, which serves a population of 3.4 million.

  • The Tampa Bay Security Network, which is connected through CopLink technology and serves a population of 3.3 million.

  • Tallahassee, Fort Myers, Miami and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which are preparing to develop information-sharing systems for their areas.
  • — Dibya Sarkar

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