How IT is helping the Mounties

The Mounties may not “always get their man”, as the saying goes, but with the help of new and improved IT systems they’re getting a lot better at nabbing the bad guys.

CIO Peter Martin and Director General, IM/IT Business Solutions, Borys Koba are in the front lines of new technology-based initiatives that will not only take the RCMP’s crime-fighting capabilities to the next level, but will also advance the concept of integrated policing among law enforcement and public safety agencies across the country.

“Inside the RCMP we’ve been working towards what we call integrated policing for a long time,” said Martin. “We’re critically interested in getting together with all of the agencies involved in delivering public safety services to the community and finding ways to share information.”

Added Koba, “Integrated policing is a vision that has been enunciated and continues to be championed by the Commissioner of the RCMP, Giuliano Zaccardelli. It’s certainly a vision that I see many police forces adopting and actually effecting. There’s more to it than sharing information, but that’s one major component of it. And for people in the IM/IT world, that’s where the work comes in.”

Building a National Criminal Justice Index

Whenever the RCMP now undertakes a technology project or activity, it looks at ensuring that the approach is open enough to enable sharing. This is a refreshing departure from the past, when law enforcement agencies played their cards close to the vest, and were notorious for citing issues that were an impediment to information sharing.

One of the most important information-sharing initiatives that the RCMP is involved with is the National Criminal Justice Index (NCJI), which is the first step in a broad integrated justice vision. NCJI is envisaged as the information exchange hub for many different information repositories from several different partners, including the RCMP, provincial and municipal police departments, and various government organizations.

To the extent that privacy regulations will allow, NCJI will permit partners to see index and summary information that the various participating organizations contribute. From a police perspective, NCJI will permit agencies to share investigative information across jurisdictional boundaries. This capability will greatly enhance law enforcement efficiency in a number of areas such as serial crime, terrorism and organized crime. An example would be the Bernardo case in southern Ontario where multiple agencies were engaged.

“We have a fairly comprehensive requirements document that defines the functions of NCJI. It was about three years in the making and had very broad contribution from different agencies and organizations across the country – federal, provincial and municipal,” said Koba.

The next hurdle is a financial one. At this point, various partners have committed in principle to the project, although they have not yet secured the funding to participate actively. How much it will cost them depends largely on the configuration of the individual partner, the amount of information they want to contribute, and the kind of access they require.

Currently, the RCMP has received some funding and is in the process of developing Release One of NCJI. Anticipated completion date for Release One is the summer of 2004.

Calling all cars

Another interesting effort in the area of partnerships is E – COMM Corporation of British Columbia, also known as Emergency Communications for South-western B.C. Formed out of a partnership among the provincial government, the City of Vancouver, the RCMP and most of the municipalities in the lower mainland, E – COMM is a private company that enables fire, police and ambulance services to share a common radio infrastructure.

“If there is an event that requires the different police departments in the lower mainland to work together, or the police and fire departments or ambulance service to work together, the service providers can all switch over to the ‘Mutual Aid’ channels and communicate with one another. And there are untold benefits from that,” said Martin.

Not least among those benefits is lower cost. In the past, the various services would likely all have towers supporting their own radio systems on certain areas of high ground. Now these organizations share one tower and the antennae on that tower. Operationally, there are advantages as well. For example, E – COMM enables police departments to easily call on neighbouring jurisdictions for assistance when necessary.

The idea of radio interoperability may sound obvious, but the concept is much harder to put into practice than it might first appear.

“A lot of people are surprised that police and public safety agencies can’t talk together in times of an emergency,” admits Martin. “But it’s an evolutionary process. At one point police, fire and ambulance were very separate cultures, with different training procedures and different requirements. The technology solutions of the different agencies were all in different stages of development and different stages in their life cycles.”

As a result, some agencies found themselves in a position to go to radio before others; this also resulted in various agencies operating on different frequencies. The RCMP is now working with Industry Canada on defining a public safety band that law enforcement agencies will be able to work within.

According to Borys Koba, another stumbling block to radio interoperability is the complex contractual environment with the provinces and municipalities, which have different ages, technologies, funding, and terms regarding radio systems.

“Some systems are leased, some we own, some we rent space on,” he said. “There are so many different contracts that it’s quite a challenge to bring them together and make them interoperate in terms of basic communication.”

E – COMM is the most advanced integrated radio communication system of its kind in Canada. But Martin believes that in the not too distant future more jurisdictions will be embracing similar models. “In a number of provinces, the RCMP has been integrating its call centres,” he noted. “It varies around the country, but where we have these smaller operations, we are moving towards integrating them into one unit, and in doing that, we would also like to reach out and partner with other police and public safety agencies.”

He adds that the call centres don’t have to be run by the RCMP. “In the past we would say, ‘Yes, we will partner with you, but we have to run it.’ Those days are gone. We will embrace any governance structure that provides an acceptable service level.”

Renewing CPIC

Various other key projects are under way at the RCMP that will benefit policing across the country. One is an overhaul of the Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC), a repository of information on wanted persons, stolen property, stolen vehicles, etc. CPIC is a shared system, enabling various police agencies across Canada to exchange information. For example, if an officer enters a warrant for an individual on CPIC, any other police officer in the country who queries the system on that person will be notified of the warrant and provided with the necessary contact information to ensure the warrant is valid, so that the appropriate action can be taken.

The repository is administered by the RCMP and governed by the CPIC Advisory Committee, made up of representatives from a number of police forces across Canada, who are partners in the system. The database resides on a mainframe at the RCMP’s data centre in Ottawa, and is maintained by their IT organization.

“It’s a mission critical application and one of the most important that we run,” said Martin. “Our biggest challenge is maintaining the 99.7 service level standard, which is an extremely high level of availability.”

The original CPIC system is about thirty years old, and an initiative called CPIC Renewal Project is now in its final stages, which will modernize the old platform. The revitalized system will be Windows-based and utilize the latest technologies to add functionality. The new application will be in place within the next 12 to 18 months.

IT and the RCMP