By Matthew Jackson, Lieutenant, Oklahoma County Sheriff's Office, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
oute I-40 travels in an east-to-west direction across a large part of the southern United States. In addition to promoting commerce and tourism, this transportation corridor increases the ease with which drug traffickers and other criminals can move across jurisdictions and state lines. More than 120 federal, state, county, and local law enforcement agencies in Oklahoma and Arkansas—two states right in the middle of the I-40 corridor—have recently joined together in a multiagency, interstate information sharing network that moves information about criminals and criminal behavior across those jurisdictions even more quickly.
The I-40 Corridor Law Enforcement Sharing (CLES) provides more than 2,600 officers across the two states with real-time access to information gathered in other jurisdictions. This information is made available through the mobile data application on the officer’s in-car laptop or smartphone. A check run on a person, for example, will return not only federal and state warrants, criminal history, and Department of Motor Vehicles data, but also local information from participating agencies. This includes personal information in local records management system (RMS) databases, field interviews documented by officers in the field, and records of recent inquiries on the same subject or vehicle. All relevant information is provided automatically, so the officer does not need to enter a separate request.
With CLES, the officer receiving the information can also directly communicate via text message with any other officer in the network to follow up on a field interview or recent inquiry. In addition to being members of their own departmental groups for messaging, officers are assigned to cross-agency (and, in some cases, cross-state) groups for mutual aid and information sharing in a major incident or an emergency.
The participating agencies use the same mobile data software applications. But having the same software does not necessarily ensure interoperability and information sharing across separate systems, networks, and jurisdictional boundaries. CLES was made possible by the availability of commercial off-the-shelf– (COTS) based information sharing tools; the existing resource-sharing relationship among the agencies; and the leadership of the Oklahoma County, Oklahoma, sheriff and the chief of the Fort Smith, Arkansas, Police Department.
Cross-Agency, Cross-State Sharing
CLES supports interoperability by allowing users to access and share information among agencies and across states. This includes data stored in four local RMSs from three different RMS vendors (and eventually incorporating two additional RMS databases). RMS data on arrestees and interviewees are especially helpful in confirming identity when an individual without a driver’s license or other identification provides a fictitious name. A standard National Crime Information Center (NCIC) name query produces matches against that name in any of the RMS databases. A mug shot or other identifying information can then be used to confirm identification. CLES also links to the court system in a given jurisdiction to flag outstanding arrest warrants.
CLES also matches queries against field interview reports previously submitted by officers though their mobile digital communicators. A report of an individual’s suspicious behavior, even if it does not result in an arrest, may be a valuable lead if that individual is subsequently involved in an incident in any of the participating jurisdictions.
A query also shows matching recent inquiries (MRIs) from any of the 123 participating agencies. When an officer initiates a query on a name, a driver’s license, a vehicle tag, or a vehicle identification number, CLES reports all recent queries made on that identifier. In one case, a wanted sex offender was found within hours when an MRI result showed his vehicle plate had been run at a traffic stop in another county along I-40. In another case, a sheriff’s deputy was able to quickly discover, based on a driver’s license query made the previous night, that a young woman reported missing was actually being detained for a DUI in another jurisdiction.
Data Interoperability over Radio Interoperability
All users across all jurisdictions communicate with one another through silent, scanner-proof, text-based messaging. They are alerted when another officer needs assistance or backup, improving officer safety and effectiveness. While radio interoperability allows users to communicate across dozens of voice channels, it cannot provide the visibility that data interoperability does. In a situation requiring mutual aid or information, an officer in one jurisdiction cannot call someone in another jurisdiction if one officer does not know that other officer is on duty or even exists. CLES is effectively a single, shared data channel. An officer can “see” the status and availability of officers in nearby jurisdictions and communicate with them directly.
In a cross-jurisdictional or interstate pursuit, rather than having to radio a dispatcher to call neighboring departments to alert their units, the lead officer contacts those units, including nearby Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers, directly. To encourage streamlined communications and rapid response to major regional and cross-state incidents and emergencies, dynamic interdepartmental groups can be set up so that messages, announcements, and even photos are delivered quickly to those who need them.
CLES was implemented in three phases over a 12-month period. This rapid rollout was possible because many of the agencies were already linked through a mobile data hosting service. In hosting, one agency provides access to the state Criminal Justice Information System, the NCIC, and the National Law Enforcement Telecommunications System for mobile end users in other participating agencies, and users connect directly to the host agency server, usually through a cellular network.
Multistate Data Sharing Consortium
Currently, the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office hosts 2,500 mobile data users in 110 agencies, including its own. In addition to other local police departments, users include several federal agencies with law enforcement responsibilities in the region, including the U.S. Marshals and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Also, in a unique intergovernmental partnership, the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office mobile data system hosts all of the more than 650 Oklahoma Highway Patrol units across the state. Across the border in western Arkansas, the Fort Smith Police Department hosts 11 other departments, including the Sebastian County Sheriff’s Office and the University of Arkansas–Fort Smith Police Department.
The Edmond, Oklahoma, Police Department, which has its own mobile data system, is also part of the CLES data sharing consortium. CLES operates effectively as a network of networks. The mobile data servers at the three locations store the field interview and MRI information from attached users and manage the connections with the external RMS and court systems. A virtual private network connects the mobile data servers at the three locations, allowing data to be shared among users attached to the different servers via commercial cellular networks.
The success of CLES can be measured by the number of new agencies sharing information. Since the project started in 2009, more than 110 agencies have joined the Oklahoma County hosting service. The Fort Smith Police Department expects 8 additional agencies to join their hosting service and CLES this year.
Several lessons learned can be applied to any communications and interoperability project.
Avoid information overload. With inputs available from more than 120 participating agencies, achieving delivery of accurate and actionable information to each user is essential. For example, consider that multiple potential RMS matches are presented on a candidate’s list, prioritized by match probability. Only when the officer selects a record for review does the detailed information appear on screen. Similarly, with groupings of users by region, messages and alerts can be restricted to just those who need to see specific messages, reducing inbox clutter.
Use COTS when possible. It would have been impossible to implement CLES in less than a year without using commercial off-the-shelf software, rather than expensive and lengthy custom development. The COTS products used included one for messaging and data interoperability across the three separate mobile data systems and another for access to the five external RMS and court databases.
Involve command-level staff early. Early in the planning, it became evident that the success of CLES would depend on executivelevel involvement from the host agencies. Their involvement, including a face-to-face meeting in Oklahoma City in late 2009, was more than merely approval to share RMS and other agency data. Setting up multiagency messaging groups required command-level decisions on regional boundaries and protocols for information sharing between agencies and across the two states. ■
Please cite as:
Matthew Jackson, "Corridor Law Enforcement Sharing Increases Officer-to-Officer Visibility, Safety," Technology Talk, The Police Chief 78 (March 2011): 70-71.