New resource allows an officer to access several databases for leads or protect his/her safety
September 15, 2011
Representatives from several local law enforcement agencies from the region met at Beaufort County Community College Wednesday (9-14-11) to hear a presentation by State Controller David McCoy and his staff of CJLEADS (Criminal Justice Law Enforcement Automated Data Services). That is a computer software system that allows a law enforcement officer to access multiple data bases that contain information on millions of individuals who may be in those criminal justice data bases. Before, the officer may have had to search several databases or may not have access to all of them. With CJLEADS they are aggregated together into one system that can be accessed from a laptop with internet access.
Mr. McCoy explained why CJLEADS was developed before he turned the demonstration over to his staff to show the attendees how the system operates. You will also hear about how much it costs. You can hear Mr. McCoy's introduction in the clip below:
Members of the staff also demonstrated the system to members of the press in attendance. You can watch part of that demo below and while you may not be able to see the screen very well, the audio explains how the system works.
CJLEADS seems to us to be so appropriate we had to wonder "what took the state so long to get this system?" It just makes sense to us that law enforcement officers and agencies across the state need an efficient way to aggregate all the information on a potential suspect in a matter of seconds. CJLEADS appears to be designed to do just that.
The problem we see with the system is that it still relies on the effectiveness of the original data bases that it ties together. And our experience is that these databases are woefully inadequate and often inaccurate. Anyone who has ever tried to simply track a criminal case through the system to find out what happened at each step in the process knows that it is often impossible to do so. CJLEADS does not address those inadequacies of the original databases.
But to a media person the obvious shortcoming of both the supporting data systems and CJLEADS is that they are not designed to provide accurate public information to the public/media. They are confined to use by law enforcement.
As you listen to Mr. McCoy explain how they involved various stakeholders in designing CJLEADS you will note that he does not mention the media or public. That was a mistake. While not everything in these various databases is or should be public information, much of it is and it should be accessible to anyone in an efficient and effective manner.
We have said it here before and we will say it again here now. The criminal justice system in this state is in severe need of reform. And a critical part of that reform should be to make the system transparent. Justice depends on the people having access to how the system works. Anybody in this state with internet access should be able to find out if an arrest has been made in a particular case and should be able to track that case through the system.
Secondly, aggregate statistics should be available. For example, a reporter should be able to compare one county, or one judge, or one prosecutor to others in the state to see which ones have a record significantly different from the norm. We should be able to assess patterns and trends of crimes. Which county does the best job in preventing child abuse, or domestic violence, for example. The raw numbers should be downloadable so researchers can import them into research programs to analyze what is happening in the criminal justice system.
And while not a part of the current databases, we would also suggest that the public should have internet access to every courtroom in their county and across the state. When thousands of convenience stores can record or broadcast every customer who buys gas, beer and cigarettes then it is not a complex task to have cameras, recorders and live internet feeds in every courtroom.
CJLEADS is a giant step forward, but only a tiny part of what needs to be done. What the need for CJLEADS exemplifies is so obvious it goes without saying that it meets a need. We have a mountain of data that does no good if the people who need access can't get to that data.
But the raw data must be accurate and timely. It is not at the present time. We would suggest that the data system used by the Administrative Office of the Courts is thirty years behind the times, and in information services that is an eternity.
And just as law enforcement officers and agencies need access to catch the bad guys, the data also needs to be accessible such that patterns and trends can be deciphered.
As soon as the bugs are worked out in CJLEADS we hope Mr. McCoy will convince the General Assembly that the job is only partially complete and much more needs to be done.