Two northwest Ohio police departments are among 23 law enforcement agencies around the state that will begin sharing records and other information by computer this month as part of a federally funded homeland security program.
State officials said the online, central database will help police, sheriff's deputies, and highway patrol troopers coordinate criminal investigations that cross jurisdictional lines, such as the probe of more than 20 freeway sniper shootings in the Columbus area, which took place in Franklin, Madison, and Fayette counties between October, 2003, and February, 2004. One person, Gail Knisley, 62, was killed on Nov. 25, 2003, during the string of shootings.
"You had three major agencies taking reports of shootings that weren't connected until the one lady was shot and killed, unfortunately," said Kenneth Morckel, director of the Ohio Department of Public Safety. "That's a big example of how a system like this would have been beneficial."
The program, known as the Ohio Local Law Enforcement Information-Sharing Network, will be explained at a news conference today in Columbus.
More than $12.1 million in federal funds have been allocated this fiscal year to allow Ohio police agencies to buy computer equipment or have their current hardware and software made compatible with the system. More than $10 million will be available in fiscal 2005.
The initial 23 agencies include the Northwood police department in Wood County and the Port Clinton police department in Ottawa County. Other participants include the Columbus and Dayton police departments and the Ohio Highway Patrol.
Mr. Morckel said those agencies are starting the program because they already have compatible computer equipment.
By the end of the year, state officials hope to have up to half of Ohio's 950 law enforcement agencies online and the rest in the network within two years.
Of those departments, 40 percent - mostly small, rural agencies - have no computers and will be starting from scratch with new equipment. "A lot of people don't realize they're still working off paper," Mr. Morckel said.
The new system will work something like an Internet search engine, said Susan Raber, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Public Safety.
"For instance, an officer could type in 'fertilizer theft' and get information on other investigations," she said.
The available information will go far beyond what's currently available to police agencies through databases compiled by the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles and the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.
"It's completely different from what's being done out there," Mr. Morckel said.
Besides the data-sharing project, the state is getting $3.2 million this year and $2 million next year to help convert police agencies to 800-mhz digital radio systems that can communicate with each other.
Monroe County, Michigan, is starting such a system this week, and Lucas County and Toledo officials are trying to agree on a single system.
The idea is to ensure that all emergency responders can communicate during crises. "We don't want to run into the World Trade Center or the Pentagon or the Oklahoma City disaster, where police and firefighters responding to the same disaster can't even talk to each other," Mr. Morckel said.
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