Integrated Criminal Justice System

The JNET is a secure web-based portal connecting authorized users to a set of 23 federated databases via a query-based interface. The JNET architecture is characterized by four elements. First, JNET acts as a portal to the criminal-justice-related databases that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (and the U.S. Federal government) maintains for criminal justice officers. Data are owned by the relevant state or Federal agency (for example, Pennsylvania’s Department of Transportation, or PennDOT, maintains driver’s license records and picture database); JNET provides a query-based access to driver’s license photos.

Second, and by law, JNET must be a secure system. Users are carefully vetted before they get access, their use is tied to specific roles and these roles grant them varying levels of access to the range of data available. Further, use is tied to secure connectivity (enabled through encryption and virtual private networks) and this requires several forms (they have multiple layers of authentication required) to be used. Users must also re-authentic periodically during their sessions in order to assure security during use. Until the trial we report on here, there was no mobile access: JNET security was tied to fixed lines and desktop computers.

Third, beyond data access, JNET provides messaging, email and reporting functions to users. In effect it serves as a common message board for all criminal justice personnel in Pennsylvania. The email alerts also provide a means for officers to more easily keep track of investigative activity. For example, it makes it possible for a parole officers to set up a query on a particular name, social security number or case number(s). If that name or number comes across the message board, she will be alerted and can more easily follow-up on her parolee.

Fourth, JNET has been operational since 2000 and supports thousands of queries each month (and use continues to grow by nearly 10% per month since inception) (JNET, 2004). Simply, JNET is one of the most integrated policing information systems in the United States.

The third element supporting mobile access to JNET are the devices being used to access its functionality while away from the fixed line access provided at police stations. To connect to the 3G wireless network the mobile devices had to have special 3G-ready modem card. Most police cruisers have in them an integrated laptop computer making this seemingly a trivial effort (put in the wireless modem card, load on the security software, and use a browser). However, there were a number of operational and legal issues that made this a non-trivial effort. For example, many of the in-cruiser laptops were not equipped with space to load the modem card. Second, the battery draw on police cruisers is substantial and this limits laptop use (and the 3G modem cards draw substantial power to run the antenna and maintain connectivity, as we discuss in more detail below). Moreover, some police cruiser’s laptops have other software whose security and operational/licensing requirements precluded additional applications from being loaded.

For officers not in a police cruiser, the mobile device had to be carried on their person. Again, this is not a trivial effort considering the fact that almost every square inch of the average police person’s body is covered by some piece of gear. Moreover, the combination of current equipment (including communications, weapons, body armor, etc.,) exceeds 25 pounds. This means that the mobile device must often displace something the officer already carries.

To work through these device issues, the field trial was done in two phases. In the first phase we provided officers in cruisers with a laptop (if they had one in their car, this meant the car now had two laptops). In the second phase we provided officers with PDAs. These PDAs had modem cards in an attached sleeve. Using a PDA reduced the officer’s need to use the car-based laptop: allowing them to be independent of the cruiser. Because this was a trial the laptops and PDAs were standard, off-the-shelf, models.


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