Politics is still the biggest hurdle

THe LAPD is working on an ambitious data exchange program with other law enforcement agencies in Southern California. Not surprisingly, politics is the biggest hurdle.
Written by Phil Windley, Contributor

Baseline is one of my favorite IT magazines because of their in-depth approach to IT stories. The latest issue has showcases ten case studies where IT has promoted innovative approaches to business problems. I've given one of them, Amazon Web Services, a lot of attention lately. But the one that caught my eye concerns the LAPD.

Entitled Information Sharing: LAPD Starts to Connect the Dots, the article talks about a special project in the LA area to get the LAPD, sheriff's department, highway patrol, and FBI to cooperatively share information.

The article talks about some of the wins, like Global Justice XML and some of the losses, like the lack--still--of interagency agreements. And, of course, the Feds can't really play ball because of data classification issues. The really hard part of this sort of thing always seems to come down to economics and politics.

One of the strategies Utah has used to great effect is something called an "interlocal agency." An interlocal agency is something like a joint venture for government agencies. Setting the up is pretty easy and they can have state and local government entities as members.

When Utah was getting ready for the 2002 Olympics, for example, they wanted to move as much of the emergency first-responder communications to the 800 MHz band as possible for interoperability--solving the problem of the fire department not being able to talk to their peers in a neighboring city. An interlocal agency was set up to run the system, with each of the members contributing money and participating in its governance.

I think the approach outlined in the article has some real possibilities as well. Essentially, someone is pushing this to work with or without agreements. The idea seems to be to get things going and prove the value then work out the agreements. I'll be interested to see how it turns out.

Data sharing has been on my list of things government needs to do better for a long time. Sharing justice data is one where agreements are necessary, but there's so much government data that's public and should be readily available. Instead it hides behind poorly designed Web sites or intransigent bureaucrats. This is a theme I've preached on for years: simple, inexpensive design rules for Web sites can lead to serendipitous data exchange opportunities. Start with public data, do simple things, and work incrementally. I think big things would come from these small steps.

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