Software Supports the Case for Computerizing Law Enforcement

April 1999
By Mark H. Kagan

Comprehensive police database management system aids and abets investigators and administrators.

Field operatives can share the capabilities of their headquarters counterparts to access and cross-reference law enforcement data from large archives or active files. Software capable of running on commercial off-the-shelf hardware allows collection and dissemination of vital police information from diverse sources without overwhelming its user.

Uncovering facts and tracking down leads in any police or legal investigation depend on many factors. Investigators often require rapid access to a range of different data, but too much information can sometimes be as much of a problem as too little information, especially when it comes in a variety of forms from a multitude of sources.

One technological solution to this problem, the augmented criminal investigations support system (ACISS), can easily recall and use all agency information contained in a unified database. The system was originally designed specifically for the law enforcement field, unlike many other off-the-shelf software computer management systems used in law enforcement. It can also be used to electronically manage a variety of administrative functions common to police work.

The law enforcement technology was developed and is produced by ACISS Systems, a Tallahassee, Florida-based software company. The company also provides support and training to law enforcement customers. According to the firm’s executive vice president, Anthony Bastian, the core of the system is a fully relational, unified database that operates in all UNIX and Windows NT operating environments. It currently resides in a database product called Unidata, which is produced by Ardent Software, Wellesley, Massachusetts, but the next version of ACISS will work on other database products such as Sequel Server or Oracle.

In response to simple queries from a user, the system assembles all available data and information, including pictures, photographs, fingerprints, and sound and video recordings about persons, places and things. It can also be linked to existing databases, such as the automated records management system, using an application program interface.

The product employs a variety of software modules, as required by an agency, which can be used alone or in conjunction with each other. These modules detect, highlight and merge duplicate information that has been entered into the system and produce investigative, managerial and statistical reports. They share several features, including one-time data entry, paperless operations, extensive cross-referencing and linking of information, and they can interface with databases at one or more outside agencies.

With one-time data entry, an investigator enters the name “John Doe” with relevant address and descriptive information. This information will automatically be linked to any subsequent report in which he appears without re-entering the data.

This eliminates a lot of data entry, and it highlights for an investigator information in the database that might be pertinent to the investigation. “The system then provides a quick and easy way to go in and find that information and see everything that’s been linked to that piece of information. You might see that John Doe is linked to Mary Smith, and you could then see everything that is linked to Mary Smith. The investigator can work the database as far as the links make sense,” Bastian explains.

Information and reports can be entered into the system by means of traditional data entry through a terminal, either directly by an investigator or by direct call-in from the field to an operator. Investigators in the field can also enter information from laptop computers connected to the system by modems.

All reports can be routed, reviewed and approved electronically, eliminating the printing, copying and manual forwarding of reports. Once the information is entered into the system, it immediately becomes available to all personnel who have the appropriate security clearances.

“The paperless environment that ACISS provides also means that new cases can be electronically assigned to investigators,” Bastian states. Investigators will sign onto their terminals and immediately see there are new cases to work.

The first ACISS user to go paperless was the Pinellas County sheriff’s department, which has an 800- to 1,000-person force and a jurisdiction that includes the cities of St. Petersburg and Clearwater, Florida. According to Bastian, the department’s deputies call in all their reports to operators at ACISS workstations.

“A report is immediately available throughout the department after the deputy hangs up the phone. It’s one-time data entry, so no one else has to enter the information again,” he notes. “Furthermore, if the press calls another sheriff, he can talk about a report that was filed only moments before, after reading it on his ACISS terminal.” Bastian also claims that this call-in system has proved to be cost-effective and requires minimal maintenance, according to Pinellas County sheriff’s department statistics.

The system’s ability to cross-reference and link all relevant information contained in the database enables ACISS to function as an investigative tool. These capabilities can also be extended into linked databases, eliminating the need to re-enter information into the ACISS database.

Bastian points out that crime analysts designated to assist in investigations usually spend most of their time entering information into a database, “so they’re doing data entry, not analysis.” Moreover, the information is usually days or weeks old, “which progressively decreases its value,” he notes.

In the Pinellas County sheriff’s department, the crime analysts only conduct analyses, not data entry, and deal with information that is generally just hours old. This has enabled them to forecast where arrests could be made. “For example, they would call a detective and say, ‘If you stake out this block around these warehouses on Thursday night between 8 o’clock and 10 o’clock, you ought to make an arrest,’ ” Bastian observes. “They have been successful at doing that on multiple occasions. They’ve also been wrong, but they’ve been right enough times that the officers are eager to take the analysts’ advice and go on stakeouts,” he asserts.

The system is not responsible for these successes, but rather the sheriff’s department is dealing with current information at all times. “ACISS is the mechanism that moves that information throughout the department on a real-time basis,” Bastian notes.

When a user enters data into the system, either through a report entry or through inquiry functions, ACISS automatically indicates whether additional linked information is available and displays it to the user, based on his or her security clearance. The user can then follow the links and build the case without spending hours searching through file cabinets. “Information will not be overlooked because it was not filed, it was misfiled or it was lying on someone’s desk,” Bastian asserts. “It also means that investigators don’t have to go out and reinterview witnesses because information was misplaced or lost.

“There are other systems that resemble ACISS,” he says, “but what sets us apart is the cross-referencing and linking capabilities—the ability to enter a name, address or tag number and find everything that is associated with them.” In addition, powerful embedded security and auditing systems for ACISS have been developed based on a system for the Plantation, Florida, vice, intelligence and narcotics unit for whom security was a high priority.

“For example, the system can be set up so that I can see everything in the system, but it will allow you to see only certain parts,” Bastian explains. “However, I can also set up the system so that if you’re looking up a restricted subject, I can let you know that you can’t see the actual information, but you can call me. Therefore, instead of not finding anything, you would get a response that says the subject is an open investigation, and you should contact me.”

Since it was introduced in 1983, there have been three major rewrites of the system in response to customer requests for additional functionality and features. In addition, ACISS is now easier to maintain. The current version, which is character-based with limited mouse usage, is a transitional edition. It accommodates the existing customer base that is moving from “dumb” terminals to workstations.

The next version is scheduled for release at the end of this year. It will be a Windows-based, browser-enabled, client-server application for workstations that will also connect to outside terminals through the Internet as well as through dial-up modems. “This will give the system the same look and feel, whether you’re using a personal computer or a workstation connected to a local area network or a notebook computer in an undercover car. It will also be the same if you’re using a cell phone to connect to the server from a remote location or if you’re connecting through the Internet,” Bastian says.

The only limit on the scalability of ACISS is the available computing power, he claims. “The system can be configured for one person or potentially for thousands. The minimum requirements are a Pentium computer with a 3-gigabyte hard drive and 64 megabytes of memory.” Currently, the smallest configuration is for five users at the Plantation, Florida, police department, the system’s first customer. The largest system is used by the Washington, D.C., police department. Called the Washington area criminal intelligence information system, or WACIIS, it is configured for approximately 110 users.

Nineteen other police, sheriff and fire departments use ACISS, primarily in Florida, with additional customers in Arizona and Missouri.

There are currently 12 modules available. The automated report management module is a full incident-based record management and uniform crime reporting system. It processes, links and cross-references all incident, offense, arrest, field interview and related property reports. The criminal investigations management module manages the assignment, tracking and closure of all cases and provides case analysis and management features, including time and expense tracking.

The property and evidence tracking system (PETS) module inventories all types of property and evidence, including narcotics and seized property, produces bar code labels, and provides a complete chain of custody for each item. It also features an automated review function that administers the retention and destruction of property and evidence.

A module called pawn works in conjunction with PETS to highlight and identify links between pawned and stolen or missing property.

The invest module collects, manages and analyzes intelligence information for narcotics, vice, organized crime, intelligence, gang and white-collar crime investigations. It also completely manages and reports on all investigative expenses.

The dialed number recorder (DNR) module is used for downloading and analysis of telephone information obtained through DNRs or trap and trace intelligence. It uses the ACISS database to link and extract information to produce investigative leads or generate reports.

To manage and analyze intelligence data obtained through a wiretap or bug, the oral intercept module fully automates the extensive paperwork associated with certain types of wiretaps. It can link and cross-reference the names of subjects, accomplices, associates and others mentioned in recordings as well as with the system database. The module can also intercept faxes and scan them into the database for on-line viewing by investigators.

The career criminal module is specifically designed to identify, track and report on known or suspected career criminals. It is also used for tracking individuals in youth intervention and rehabilitation programs.

For capturing and tracking all tips received and all tasks assigned, there is a tips/tasks module. It manages the personnel involved in a high-profile criminal incident investigation. It can also be used to control the daily operations of a telephone tip line or to manage personnel and tasks during a major catastrophe.

The net module is a networking software package that enables different agencies using ACISS software to interconnect their computers. The interaction is controlled by the system’s security component, which allows access to information only to authorized users. The gateway module is a hardware/software interface that lets agencies or departments with non-ACISS databases participate in the ACISS network.

The mail module is a secure electronic mail system for ACISS users to communicate with each other.

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