CJIS puts computer power in hands of local law enforcement

Thanks to in-car computers, police officers on the streets of Asheville have an amazing array of information at their fingertips.

Officers can call up the criminal history at a particular address, update a traffic-accident report from the field, look at mug shots of suspects and more. What makes all this possible is the Criminal Justice Information System, a joint project of the Asheville and Buncombe County governments.

After years of work and millions of taxpayer dollars, county officials are now looking to sign up more users of the system. So far, the Asheville Police Department, the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office, the county magistrates, the district attorney’s office, the city/county Bureau of Identification and the county’s emergency-management system have access to CJIS. But county officials are now pitching the system and its benefits to smaller agencies, setting their sights on the Woodfin, Weaverville, Black Mountain and UNCA police departments, as well as the Asheville Regional Airport.

The county wants to charge agencies $3,100 per officer per year for the right to access CJIS, according to Information Service Director Kim Pruett, who oversees the system. At present, the county provides 55 percent of CJIS’ $1.7 million budget; the city kicks in the rest.

“We’re trying to reach a cost that municipalities can budget for,” says Pruett, noting that for small local governments, the cost can add up. But the benefits, such as enabling officers to serve more warrants, write more tickets and spend less time on paperwork, offset some of that cost, Pruett notes.

Woodfin police Chief Brett Holloman says his department recently signed up for CJIS access.

“I know it’s going to be very valuable to us to be able to have immediate contact with other agencies and have access to files that would take longer to get into,” says Holloman.

Woodfin’s 13 full-time police officers (including the chief) already had limited access to state databases, including Division of Motor Vehicles records and wanted suspects. But CJIS can offer more detailed local information, he explains. “I also think it will bring agencies to a closer working relationship, because file sharing will be a lot easier.”

Asheville police Chief Bill Hogan knows the system’s benefits firsthand, and he agrees.

“The sharing of information enhances all the police departments,” notes Hogan. His department uses CJIS for everything from computer-aided dispatching and automatic tracking of police vehicles to managing training records and property-room evidence.

The long and sometimes bumpy road to creating the information-sharing technology stretches back nearly 20 years. City and county officials wrangled over just what information should and could be shared, and there were a multitude of technological problems. About eight years ago, local officials turned to SunGard Public Sector and its OSSI software as the platform for the local system, and it’s worked well, Pruett reports.

“We have the infrastructure in place,” says Pruett, “and we’re excited about sharing it with the municipalities. The more sharing of information we have, the better our public safety will be.”

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