Criminal justice system overhauls IT

The federal government will spend the next three years completing an overhaul of IT systems designed to improve the way information is shared between criminal justice organizations.

Solicitor General Lawrence MacAulay told a government briefing Thursday that $4.75 million had been allocated

to finish the Canadian Public Safety Information Network (CPSIN) from the $7.7 billion set aside to increase public security in December’s federal budget. The CPSIN project has considerable scope and will involve upgrading or creating IT systems for police officers, parole boards, court officials and customs officers, among others. The project is under the stewardship of the RCMP. Other stakeholders include the integrated justice information cluster at the federal level, which includes the Solicitor General and nine other departments. The group recently completed a series of business requirements with law enforcement and criminal justice practitioners from a variety of juridictions. Their feedback will be used to determine how some components of CPSIN will be built.

“”We’re pursuing a concept right now,”” said Greg Wright, executive director of the Integrated Justice Secretariat for the Solicitor General of Canada. “”We need to get validation on the business requirements. Then we need to review the technology solutions and what the funding issues are.””

Major components of CPSIN include a National Criminal Justice Index — an Internet-based software program that will connect all kinds criminal justice practitioners — and a data standard to exchange criminal justice information.

“”The index, once developed, should be the over-arching means of getting to any offender-based data,”” he said. “”You would be able to search on a wide variety of criteria, whether it’s by name, by vehicle, by offence, by whatever.””

The CPSIN project is in some ways an extension of a plan to renovate the Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC), which provides basic information to law enforcement authorities now. It could tell a police officer about an outstanding warrant on an individual or a stolen vehicle, for example, but it doesn’t get into the details of case, Wright said. The index, on the other hand, will lead authorities to a police occurrence management file that includes modus operandi.

Though the government expects all the various projects within CPSIN to be complete by April 1, 2005, they each have different individual release dates. Some, like an automated conditional release system for the National Parole Board, are already done. Others, like the Index, are still at the drawing-board stage. The enhanced CPIC rollout should begin by spring of 2003, but it could take two years to interface with all the various municipal police forces and 15,000 other points of contact.

The elements being defined in the standard, which Wright called a “”core dictionary,”” are those that are shared by more than one federal player. The function whereby offenders manage their money while in an institution is usually referred to as the “”canteen,”” for example. More generic information, like names and hair colour, is entered differently in various systems. “”I was told that the FBI, in their National Criminal Information Center, have six choices under the question of sex,”” Wright said. “”Don’t ask me what the six are, please — my imagination is not that fertile.””

Graham Stewart, executive director of the Ottawa-based John Howard Society, an advocacy group that deals with criminal justice issues, said he was skeptical of the CPSIN’s potential. Improved IT may help police track down more suspects, he said, but that doesn’t necessarily make the country any safer.

“”What you’ve really got is a system that will pick up minor offenders, not major offenders,”” he said. “”They do the legwork on the major investigations; it’s the little ones that they wouldn’t (normally) bother with because it’s too cost-ineffective that they might gather in this network of computers.””

Wright admitted that cultural changes within the criminal justice system may prove a stumbling block to CPSIN’s acceptance. “”We can build the best technology known to mankind, theoretically,”” he said, “”But if police officer X or corrections officer Y doesn’t want information to be seen by anyone else — which can sometimes be the case — they can find ways to not use the system.

“”Your typical cop is pretty tight-lipped, except with their cop buddies,”” he added. “”You have to translate the trust they develop through personal relationships through the electronic media.””

Stewart said that would prove difficult. “”I think they’ve been so preoccupied with the fascinating technical problems and the notion that if it’s on computers that it’s efficient,”” he said. “”I think the politicians like it because anything that has to do with computers makes them look savvy and up to date.””

CPSIN sub-projects also include the creation of a case management tool to allow one-time data entry for RCMP officers; an enhancement to the Offender Management System for Correctional Services Canada; an online Global Case Management System for the department of Citizenship and Immigration; and an IT system to handle the case disclosure data of federal prosecutors.

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