A state board met Tuesday for the first time since 2004, charged with “reinvigorating” its 1999 legislative directive to oversee development of an integrated system in Louisiana that would provide criminal justice agencies statewide with the most accurate and up-to-date data on DWI offenses, sex crimes, crimes of violence and other offenses.
Members of the Integrated Criminal Justice Information System policy board, including Chairwoman and Louisiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Catherine “Kitty” Kimball, gathered in downtown Baton Rouge in the wake of a recent legislative resolution that urged the board to “meet and coordinate the integration of the various criminal justice automated information systems.”
Col. Mike Edmonson, commander of Louisiana State Police and a member of the ICJIS board, said there are no less than 13 such systems currently operating in the state, including the Automated Fingerprint Identification System, or AFIS, that the State Police relies upon heavily.
“It is very important that law enforcement have all of the information they can have in a format they can use,” Kimball said in an interview before the meeting.
Louisiana District Attorneys Association Executive Director Pete Adams, who represented the state’s 42 elected district attorneys at the meeting, said linking all of the criminal justice information systems together poses difficult challenges but can be done.
Adams said it is important that prosecutors and law enforcement agencies have access to accurate information, adding that an integrated criminal justice information system could be in place “within the next couple of years.”
The 1999 legislation that created the ICJIS board said the project was to include an impaired driver tracking system.
“It is in the best interest of this state to utilize the ICJIS project to coordinate an impaired driver tracking system to ensure that persons employed by the agencies involved in the investigation, prosecution, and disposition of impaired driving offenses have complete, reliable, and accurate information on every person who has committed” such an offense, the legislation reads.
John Gaines Jr., who sat in the audience at Tuesday’s meeting, could not agree more. He lost his mother, his sister and her four children, and a friend in an alcohol-related crash May 30 in East Feliciana Parish. The alleged drunken driver in the crash, Brett Gerald, of Greensburg, had three previous DWI arrests.
“I wish I had an answer for what happened that day. I don’t,” Edmonson told Gaines at the start of the meeting while offering his condolences and prayers to Gaines.
Gaines said after the meeting there’s no telling how many lives could have been saved over the years in Louisiana if it had an integrated criminal justice information system such as the one the Legislature called for in 1999. He said he believes such a system “would have prevented” the fatal May 30 crash from happening.
Prosecutors, Mothers Against Drunk Driving and others say a computer system that allows authorities to more easily verify previous DWI convictions and sentences across the state’s many court jurisdictions would be a strong weapon against repeat drunken-driving offenders.
“It’s sad (that the ICJIS board hasn’t met for so long), but I’m glad they’re here now,” Gaines said. “I’ll be here every step of the way.”
“I am on your side,” Adams told him. “I want to solve this.”
Adams acknowledged it “doesn’t make any sense” that the board hasn’t met since 2004.
Eight years ago, the board awarded Baton Rouge technology company Thinkstream a $1.5 million contract to create a network linking the databases of some Louisiana criminal justice agencies. But two months later, after a losing bidder’s appeal, then-Commissioner of Administration Jerry Luke LeBlanc overturned the decision, ruling the board violated its own rules in awarding the contract to Thinkstream.
The network would have enabled the agencies to access each other’s databases for information such as criminal histories, arrest warrants, fingerprints and mug shots, and make the information available to laptop computers in squad cars. The ICJIS board planned to eventually award a $10 million contract to hook up hundreds of law enforcement agencies across the state.
After the problems arose, the board surrendered the $1.5 million federal grant and scrapped the project because the grant was due to expire in February 2005, which did not give the panel enough time to re-evaluate the proposals, pick a winner and spend the money.
The board is scheduled to report its progress to the Legislature during the 2013 regular session.