State law enforcement agencies are building or improving information-sharing programs to prevent terrorist attacks and improve police work, says Stateline.org. The process trades stronger vigilance for complaints of information overload.
The initiatives mark a dramatic expansion of law enforcement technology and a shift away from the turf wars that have prevented such efforts in the past, say many officials. “Prior to 9-11, there was a void in intelligence outside the federal arena,” said Maj. John Buturla of the Connecticut State Police.
From various meetings and the year-long work of a committee of federal, state and local officials emerged the National Criminal Intelligence Sharing Plan, which outlines 28 recommendations to create a national criminal intelligence network.
Eight states take part in a federally-funded pilot program called the Multistate Anti-Terrorism Information Exchange, or MATRIX: Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Utah. “We're in the beginning stages of an information-exchange future,” said Gerard P. Lynch, executive director of the Middle Atlantic-Great Lakes Organized Crime Law Enforcement Network (MAGLOCLEN), in Newtown, Pa. The organization is one of six regional Information Sharing Systems begun in 1974 to help states fight crime across borders.
The National Law Enforcement Telecommunications System (NLETS), a nonprofit owned and governed by the states since 1966, also has a link to the FBI's network. The system gives police access to motor vehicle and drivers data, INS databases and state criminal history records. More than 34 million messages are sent each month.
In November, Wisconsin and Kentucky became the first two states to issue criminal histories to NLETS in the new format, and Florida, Maine and Texas have similar projects underway.
Most police departments have fewer than 24 officers and cannot devote personnel to monitoring all of the information, says the International Association of Chiefs of Police. To help smaller departments, the Pennsylvania State Police has opened an around-the-clock information gathering and analysis center to filter and disseminate relevant intelligence.
Despite the flurry of new initiatives and the release of a national plan, law enforcement has not yet created a central intelligence framework. The increased focus on information-sharing is a signal that different levels of law enforcement are working together better than in the past, officials said. Federal agencies like the FBI traditionally have been were reluctant to share information with state and local law enforcement, said Thomas R. Rekus, a former FBI agent now a liaison to local law enforcement for the federal Intelink Management Office. “I'm seeing a willingness by most groups to share their toys and play nicely in the sand box,” Rekus said.