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Back to Archives | Back to June 2006 Contents 

Why Reinvent the Wheel? Model State, Regional, and Federal Enterprise Retrieval System

By Katie Mugg, Project Manager, State, Regional, and Federal Enterprise Retrieval System, San Diego Association of Governments, San Diego, California

eveloping enhanced information sharing capabilities is critical to improving the capacity of law enforcement and other emergency response agencies to protect against terrorism and all other criminal acts that threaten safety. The National Criminal Intelligence Sharing Plan (NCISP), endorsed by both the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, outlines steps to be taken to improve the information sharing capabilities of law enforcement and other emergency agencies. Key among these recommendations is the efficient leveraging of existing efforts-that is, the commitment to build on, not reinvent, substantial information sharing activities already under way.1

The Goal: A Toolkit for Departments
In 2005, in order to pilot an implementation of NCISP recommendations, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) awarded a grant to the San Diego Automated Regional Justice Information System (ARJIS) to develop information sharing proof of concept. The goal of the NIJ grant was the development of a toolkit for information sharing of data and functionality not previously available across state lines. This toolkit will serve as a blueprint for agencies and administrators when enhancing, building, or linking information or intelligence systems in order to leverage not just existing networks and infrastructure but also the lessons learned and best practices of already existing networks.

The first phase of this project, known as the State, Regional, and Federal Enterprise Retrieval System (SRFERS), resulted in the development of a prototype application allowing simultaneous searches of regional information in Arizona and California to address the demand for critically needed data and photos. ARJIS partnered with Maricopa County Integrated Criminal Justice Information Systems (ICJIS) and the International Justice and Public Information Sharing Network (Nlets) to develop the SRFERS application. All three organizations, ARJIS, Nlets, and Maricopa County ICJIS, met the project participant pre- requisites:

  • Approved for data sharing pursuant to National Criminal Information Center (NCIC) policies and procedures

  • Willing to provide data and practitioners input and involvement

  • Technically ready to share data via existing infrastructure

  • Compliant with Global Justice XML Data Model (GJXDM)

  • Existing governance structure

  • User and technical support and resources available

The Automated Regional Justice Information System (ARJIS) was created as a joint powers agency to share information among justice agencies throughout San Diego and Imperial Counties, California. Over the past several years, ARJIS has evolved into a complex criminal justice enterprise network used by 65 local, state, and federal agencies in the two California counties that border Mexico. There are more than 11,000 authorized users generating more than 35,000 transactions daily. ARJIS is used for tactical analysis, investigations, statistical information, and crime analysis. The ARJIS governance structure promotes data sharing and cooperation at all levels for member agencies, from chiefs to officers to technicians. A recent merger with SANDAG (San Diego Association of Governments) has enhanced the visibility of ARJIS at the federal and state level by providing advocacy services and enhancing funding opportunities.

About Maricopa County ICJIS
The mandated mission of ICJIS is to facilitate the integration of disparate information systems among Maricopa County criminal justice departments for the purpose of reducing expenses resulting from non-integrated criminal justice systems. The department is responsible for the system integration of the five justice agencies in Maricopa County: the superior court, the clerk of the court, the county attorney's office, the sheriff's office, and the indigent representation office. The integration facilitates the exchange of data and information between the agencies in an efficient and cost-efficient manner. For more information on Maricopa County ICJIS, visit (

About Nlets
The International Justice and Public Safety Information Sharing Network (NlETS) was established more than 35 years ago in recognition of the U.S. public safety need to communicate effectively and securely across multiple organizations and jurisdictions. Nlets has evolved from primarily an interstate telecommunication service for law enforcement to a more broad-based network servicing the justice community at the local, state, and federal levels. The agency is now the top interstate law enforcement network in the nation for the exchange of law enforcement and related justice information.

The user population for Nlets is composed of all of the states and territories, all federal agencies with a justice component, and selected international agencies. All jurisdictions cooperatively exchange data. The data being exchanged comes from such sources as motor vehicle and driver's databases, Canadian Hot File records, U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) databases, and state criminal history records. The information is delivered through transmission of 50 million messages between and among users each month, more than 500,000 devices in the United States and Canada connected to more than 20,000 agencies with more than a million users. Nlets is providing SRFERS with use of this extensive existing network, as well as the organization's expertise and experience in policy matters. For more information on Nlets, please visit (

Development of the SRFERS Application
After the NIJ grant award, a variety of law enforcement practitioners (including crime analysts, investigators, and border agents) from California, Arizona, and Alaska were surveyed. The objective of the survey was to determine the usefulness of access to real-time booking photos from another state. The survey concluded that officers have an extremely difficult time accessing photos from across states and that this would be a great resource. Officers also expressed interest in several other Nlets data sources, including a license plate reader (LPR) at the border, and access to the Random Access to Nlets Data (RAND) database. RAND stores all of the Nlets transactions that occur over a two-year time period.

The next step was for ARJIS and Nlets to meet with the California Department of Justice (CAL-DOJ) and Arizona Department of Public Safety to request approval to utilize Nlets to share booking photos between states. A memorandum of understanding (MOU) was produced and signed between each state and Nlets. The MOUs outline the states' roles and responsibilities, which include assisting with the technical review and design of the application and participating in the project's governance. Nlets responsibilities include providing the router hardware to facilitate the connection, ensuring the protection of the systems through the installation and maintenance of firewall technology, and monitoring and maintaining the network connection 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The user group, the technical group, and the policy group came together for a two-day meeting to capture user requirements, design the prototype, identify the risks, and outline the project roles and responsibilities. After the Phoenix meeting, the technical staff and contractors at Nlets, ARJIS, and Maricopa County developed the functional pieces of the SRFERS proof-of-concept application. Nlets developed the SRFERS broker, which is used to route messages between the client and the various data search services. Maricopa County and ARJIS developed services for fulfilling booking search requests. ARJIS developed a functional demonstration application for sending and receiving SRFERS messages.

A standard message header was developed with input from ARJIS, Nlets, Maricopa County, and CAL-DOJ to meet the network routing and security logging requirements of the various state and local networks that the messages pass through. This flexible wrapper is used to transport the SRFERS data that is in GJXML format. For each of the types of data being used in the SRFERS application, booking photos, RAND, and LPR, an XML schema has been created to standardize the format of the GJXML message.

The SRFERS proof-of-concept application consists of three basic software components: a client, the broker, and data providers. It is able to perform simultaneous searches on RAND, LPR, and the booking photo databases.

The communication flow works as follows: A request starts with a client sending a search request to the broker. The broker looks at the type of request and the search region specified. It compares these to its list of known data providers. It transmits the request to each data provider that matches the request. If necessary, this transmission includes transforming the request into the appropriate communication type Series or Web Service). Responses from each data provider are routed back to the client, through the broker, and displayed to the user. The data sources available through SRFERS include the following:

Booking Photos: The booking photos and limited booking information for the San Diego region are retrieved from the ARJIS booking repository. Maricopa
County provides booking photos booking information from the Maricopa County Jail Management System and from the Arizona Criminal Justice Information System. The demonstration involves predicate-based subject queries on name and date of birth.

RAND: Nlets does approximately 50 million transactions a month. Records of these transactions are logged in the RAND database. The SRFERS proof of concept was developed to allow users to query RAND in a deferred mode to determine whether persons and vehicles of interest have been queried anywhere else in the nation.

License Plate Reader Data: The National Insurance Crime Bureau provides Nlets with access to its LPR database. This database contains information relating to vehicle crossings along the Mexican and Canadian borders. This information includes the time, date, and location the vehicle crossed the border. The SRFERS application was developed to allow users to access the LPR database over the Nlets network.

Reusable Toolkit
Technical standards and political boundaries are being handled by the development of a toolkit that will provide a national standardized model to new regional and state systems to allow a fast and effective way to initiate data sharing. In essence the toolkit maximizes the information potential of existing systems by connecting them to expand collaboration, opportunities, and database access, while continuing to evolve the nationwide sensitive but unclassified architecture to support fully functional bidirectional information sharing. The toolkit will include the following:

  • Model memorandum of understanding

  • Privacy impact assessment templates

  • Global Justice XML schemas

  • Reusable Java code

  • Sample interface

  • Security assessment template

  • Technical documentation from phase 1

  • Technical acceptance template

  • Customer acceptance template

Addressing Security and Privacy
Security concerns are a key priority when developing a justice information sharing system. To ensure that ARJIS complies with Nlets and Criminal Justice Information System (CJIS) security policies, a security assessment of ARJIS's physical and network infrastructure, and security policies was conducted.

The assessment was completed by the Nlets security specialist, and included a pre-audit questionnaire, on-site meetings, and inspections of both ARJIS' physical security.

Privacy has become a critical component in justice initiatives. To help the SRFERS agencies identify and address information privacy concerns, a legal analyst was hired to conduct a privacy impact assessment (PIA) of the SRFERS application. The objective of the PIA, which is currently under way, is to evaluate the design and implementation of data sharing strategies and technologies within SRFERS, as they relate to balancing proper privacy protections for the use, collection, and disclosure of personally identifiable information. The PIA will determine whether the personally identifiable information available in SRFERS is handled in compliance with relevant privacy laws, regulations, and policies and will make suggestions of interpretations or policies if there are conflicts or gaps in existing privacy-relevant directives. Once complete, the PIA will be sent to the Global Privacy Working Group for review and validation.

The SRFERS project team is composed of representatives from a wide range of agencies. The team consists of practitioners, state representatives, technical architects, legal consultants, and other law enforcement personnel. The members have been highly involved in the development of the application and have contributed valuable time and resources toward the project. SRFERS team meetings and project reviews have been held approximately every three months and biweekly conference calls have kept the team members informed of the projects status.

A policy advisory committee (PAC) is being formed to review and validate deliverables and milestones during the course of the project as well as to provide strategic and policy guidance as the project moves forward. Functions of the PAC include the following:

  • Help develop the project mission, strategy, and goals

  • Help develop and validate a project governance structure

  • Help develop a business case for phase 2

  • Help identify potential funding sources

  • Act as an advocate for criminal justice information sharing standards

PAC members will represent organizations across the full spectrum of stakeholder communities, including local, state, and federal, and are chosen due to their position in the law enforcement and government community as well as their expertise in justice information sharing and information-led policing. As a general rule, terms of service are expected to last two years, with half of the group rotating every year to ensure continuity and retain institutional knowledge.

Next Steps
ARJIS and Maricopa County have rolled out the SRFERS application to a limited number of users and will be collecting metrics to determine system usage and to help to establish phase 2 costs and deliverables. In phase 2, which has been approved by NIJ, the SRFERS team seeks to expand the application to new regions. Jurisdictions and agencies that have shown interest in SRFERS include Blaine, Washington; the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department; and Alaska. The team expects that the process of adding these regions will be efficient because of the toolkit, resulting in quicker implementations and cost savings.

The need for greater information sharing and collaboration between the various levels in the law enforcement community is abundantly clear. In the face of common and significant threats to public safety the U.S. law enforcement community must develop and implement new capabilities to protect itself. The implementation of the NCISP by way of the SRFERS project may be the first step in improving the sharing of local and regional justice data for the prevention of criminal and terrorist acts. ■


1 1U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Global Justice Information Sharing Initiative, NCISP: The National Criminal Intelligence



From The Police Chief, vol. 73, no. 6, June 2006. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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