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Reconnaissance Study: Developing a Business Case for the Integration of Criminal Justice Information

Lessons About Success

Multiple Paths and Strategies

Successful achievement of integration objectives is clearly possible by a number of different paths. The approaches we found across the states and localities revealed several creative responses to varied circumstances and resources. Many of the approaches involved the same objectives and styles of action, but differed in some details and sequences of events. What appear to be distinctive strategies are described below.

Several states and localities pursued what could be called a strategy of “full frontal assault” on their integration objectives. That is, the range of integration objectives involved all the agencies, functions, and levels of government accessible in that group of jurisdictions. The initiative included an overall coordinating and control structure along with comprehensive integration objectives. The Harris County JIMS is an example of such an approach at the county level, and the Colorado, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania initiatives are similar at the state level. The composition of the central coordinating or control body in these cases is typically made up of high level representatives of the principal stakeholder agencies and groups. These may be limited to the government officials from the criminal justice agencies involved, as in North Carolina, or extend to a broad range of government stakeholders, as in Pennsylvania. This comprehensive approach also covers most, if not all, of the main policy and technical matters involved in integration, such as standards, budgets, financial controls, infrastructure, and policy making.

An alternative to the comprehensive approach was the choice of limited, strategic targets or objectives. In some cases, the limited objective was chosen as part of a larger strategic plan. The immediate objective, such as a mobile data network or LiveScan fingerprint implementation, was seen as part of a sequence of phased steps aimed at more complete integration. In New York, for example, information systems integration was aimed primarily at the largest cities in the state, since they include the bulk of the population and criminal activity. In other cases, such as the Indiana court system integration project, an initial effort to develop standards was seen as a necessary building block for subsequent integration objectives.

There were a number of initiatives in which the limited objectives were not directly or initially linked to a broad integration agenda. The Project SAFE-T mobile network in Indiana was pursued for its own intrinsic value, rather than as part of a larger set of integration objectives. However, the Indiana Integrated Public Safety Commission, which is part of Project SAFE-T, will support continuing work toward other integration objectives. The Judicial Branch Statistical Information System (JBSIS) in California is a court initiative aimed at serving the statistical needs of that system, rather than a more general integration objective. In Florida, legislation for a statewide telecommunications infrastructure serves a similar particular need, but can also function as part of an integrated information system. It is not necessary for such initiatives to be part of some larger plan in order for them to improve integration in some way. However, in the absence of an overall integration plan and coordination structure, there is a greater risk that the various components will not fit well or efficiently into an integrated whole at some point in the future.

Another important element of success in many cases was a crisis or high visibility event that focused attention on the need to improve integration. In one state, a successful LiveScan initiative resulted from a failure to discover a new school janitor’s violent criminal history in time to prevent him from murdering a student. In another instance, police from three counties could not communicate well enough to coordinate the chase of an escaping bank robbery and murder suspect. In another state, inability of emergency workers to coordinate efforts in response to an airline crash stimulated a major integration effort. In these cases actual achievement of the integration objectives required leaders and agencies to take advantage of the interest generated by a precipitating event; the event itself was not enough. Other successful initiatives occurred without any tragic stimulus, but it is clear that such events, tragic though they may be, often provide clear opportunities for integration advocates to generate support and resources for new achievements.

In many cases, informal networking forms a key component of integration. There are many potential interested parties in any integration initiative. Their collaboration requires much communication and ongoing opportunity for interaction. Informal networks and other opportunities for joint effort are often necessary and effective in moving integration forward. Non-governmental groups in California have a long history of promoting integration efforts, including proposed legislation to create a statewide integration body. In the absence of state government action, local public safety officials in Alabama have formed an Alliance to promote new IT and integration efforts. At the national level, The Office of Justice Programs sponsored a workshop series that brought criminal justice professionals from throughout the country together to advance the integration agenda. A variety of informal meetings and visits among the professionals and political actors were reported as important elements in the development of all the initiatives we examined. These informal discussions and support building activities appear to be as important as formal coordination and leadership activities in achieving integration objectives.

Although the initiatives in the various states and localities followed their own paths, a “building block” approach was a common element in several of them. These approached information integration as if constructing the systems from a number of inter-related “blocks” or components. An overall vision or strategic plan guided the selection and order of blocks to be added in a logical sequence. For example, a number of cases identified the development of standards as a foundation block on which integration could be built. Therefore a standards development initiative may have been an early component. Another component may have been creation of a central coordinating or governing body, or communication network infrastructure. Each building block could be viewed as an integration objective, an achievement in its own right, and also as part of a growing system. This approach provides a long-range perspective and logic for development that is adaptable over longer time periods. It also recognizes the need for continuing support and resources to advance the overall integration agenda.

These varied organizational strategies may be reflected in the technical architecture of the systems as well. The integration initiatives we reviewed all fit in the typology developed in a recent review of integration issues.11 That typology distinguishes between unified integrated systems, and coordinated integrated systems. In the unified type, a single design concept is developed to meet all the functional requirements. This frequently involves a single database or central computer system, but the components and data may be distributed across different sites and agencies. In a coordinated system, the design and architecture follow agency lines, and use different platforms, applications, and operating systems. They agree only on basic data structures and business rules. The systems also differ in what is called a step-phased development versus an application-phased development strategy. In step-phased development, functional requirements for all are determined first, and operational implementation of a system is roughly simultaneous for all users. The Harris County development appears to follow this model. In application-phased development, the entire application is developed in one agency first, then expanded agency-by-agency. Some of the court-based systems fit this model, developing integrated systems for their needs before expanding integration to other agencies.

11 Bureau of Justice Assistance. System Integration: Issues Surrounding Integration of County-level Justice Information Systems. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, 1998.