Commission close to approving new Criminal Justice Information System

According to Albany-Dougherty IT Project Manager Cindy Tiernan, a 253-page request for a new Criminal Justice Information System is a product of hard work and cooperation. (Staff photo: Brad McEwen)

According to Albany-Dougherty IT Project Manager Cindy Tiernan, a 253-page request for a new Criminal Justice Information System is a product of hard work and cooperation. (Staff photo: Brad McEwen)

ALBANY — Dougherty County leaders are on the verge of approving a $1.7 million information system upgrade that will enable 10 different public service departments to utilize a single software platform.

Once approved and implemented, the new system will allow the 911 Communication Center, the Albany-Dougherty Drug Unit, the Albany Fire Department, the Albany Police Department, the city/county IT Department, the Dougherty County District Attorney’s Office, Dougherty County EMS, the Dougherty County Jail, the Dougherty Police Department, and the Dougherty County Sheriff’s Office to utilize one system for gathering and sharing information.

At its regular work session Monday morning, the Dougherty County Board of Commissioners was presented with a proposal from IT Project Manager Cindy Tiernan to accept a qualified bid from SunGard Sector Inc. for the implementation of the new system, known as the Criminal Justice Information System (CJIS).

Currently, each local law enforcement agency and public service department is using its own software, making it difficult for the different entities to communicate and share critical information. The use of independent platforms also requires duplicate data entry as a case makes its way through the various groups.

The information system change, first approved as part of Special-Purpose Local-Option Sales Tax V and passed by voters in November of 2002, was proposed as a way of upgrading each department’s outdated technology while allowing them to all utilize the same system, which will increase overall efficiency.

During her proposal, Tiernan explained that the new system will replace the current technology, now more than 20 years old, with superior technology that will benefit everyone.

“Public safety is a mighty powerful topic,” Tiernan said. “The direction for this project has been a long time coming. We needed to come up with one software solution.”

Tiernan illustrated how the new system will work using an example of a robbery call coming in to 911. In the example, Tiernan said, when the call is first received, 911 operators would input the necessary information into the system and it would then be available to city and county law enforcement, as well as the fire department and EMS. Whichever group responded to the scene could make subsequent entries of what they encountered.

Then, according to Tiernan’s example, if another agency in the vicinity were to apprehend a suspect, the arresting officer would update the system “case” notes. Finally, once the case made its way to the courts and the jail, all the compiled information would still be available for use.

With the current technology, as each agency becomes involved in the situation, each group would have to input data about the case in its own system, and none of the other agencies would be able to view that information. Naturally, such a system causes a duplication of data entry for each group, a problem that will be eliminated with the new technology.

Coming up with a technological solution impacting so many different groups was not an easy task, but Tiernan said that by taking time for each group to become educated and executing a strong plan, the various agencies and departments were able to present a unanimously approved request.

“It was a well-thought-out process,” said Tiernan. “When you have 10 agencies involved you have to be transparent, and that’s why we got the unanimous consensus. I’m really proud of our process. Everybody was on the same sheet of music.”

Tiernan said the process began in earnest in 2011 when a group of representatives from each impacted department hosted an informational vendor fair, designed to allow everyone to get a clear picture of what technology was available.

“It’s difficult to know what to buy when you don’t know what’s out there,” Tiernan explained. “The vendor fair gave everyone a look into the future, gave them a sense of ‘here’s where we’re going.’”

After hosting the vendor fair, a selection committee put together an extensive request for services to share with prospective vendors. After receiving three bids, the committee engaged in a series of five focus groups, which allowed potential users from each agency an opportunity to test software and ask questions.

“We’re going to use this system for 20 years,” Tiernan said. “This was a decision that was made from the bottom up. The people who use it every day are the ones who evaluated it.”

Once the focus groups had completed their evaluations of each responding vendor, the selection committee was able to unanimously recommend SunGard. Currently 911, APD and the Dougherty County Sheriff’s Office are using older versions of SunGard technology, meaning the the agencies already have a good idea of the quality they can expect when contracting with the company.

The County Commission is scheduled to make a final decision on the request at its meeting today. Tiernan said once the commission approves the bid, it will take roughly a year and half to have the system completely implemented.