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Public Administration Code Release Communities: Dossier ONSFA

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Indice del artículo
Public Administration Code Release Communities: Dossier ONSFA
Introduction
Trisano
Connect
NCOMS
LEADR
Sahana
PloneGov
Worldwind
Plinkit
OSS Forjes
Conclusions
Recommendations
Future Trends
Acknowledgements

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Project contact person: Edward Blackburn, Program Manager, South Carolina Research Authority (SCRA). United States.

Brief description of the project

Law Enforcement Automated Data Repository, LEADR system is an open source Comprehensive Collection and Information Sharing Toolset. It was initially designed by several local agencies (counties) to share law enforcement information across jurisdictional boundaries and today is in use by hundreds of agencies in the Southeastern United States.

The LEADR system is a software suite that provides the necessary tools to ensure effective and efficient sharing of critical law enforcement information. Its elements include:

  • Sharing Capabilities. Information must be shared to increase its value. This is especially true when trying to analyze criminal patterns or linkages between individuals, property, addresses or phone numbers. The sharing component of LEADR assists in determining potential precursors of criminal and terrorist activities.

  • Web-Based Records Management. Law enforcement agencies have struggled to find a user friendly, comprehensive, cost-effective records management solution for small agencies to enter law enforcement information to be shared statewide. By using an integrated open source web-based Records Management System (RMS), agencies have the ability to integrate incident information rapidly in a cost efficient manner without being tied to a specific vendor.

  • LEADR sharing portal. This is the information sharing warehouse and portal that will allow Regional Planning Authorities (RPA) to integrate further RMS systems into the sharing solution without requiring new participants to abandon existing RMS solutions. It is this set of functionality that will allow the RPA to continue to affectively broaden its information sharing depth both at the local, state and federal levels.

  • Gang Data Collection and Reporting. The Gang component of the LEADR system assists law enforcement in battling the growing threat of gang violence within their jurisdiction while allowing them to share this critical information with other agencies nationwide Is the first repository to allow law enforcement agencies to access the FBI's Violent Gang and Terrorist Organization File (VGTOF) system Integrates seamlessly with LEADR. It provides identification of gang members, associated property, vehicles and locations.

  • The Suspicious Activity Reporting Module. A tool designed for law enforcement personnel to record suspicious activities before they are considered incidents. These reports are integrated into the Web RMS system so that they can be converted to incident reports with ease when needed.

LEADR is currently in use by hundreds of law enforcement agencies in multiple states with agencies submitting over 20,000 queries per month.

Target organization

State and Local Law Enforcement and Public Safety agencies with a need to exchange information to prevent, investigate and solve crimes, respond to incidents in more informed manner. Entities include state and local agencies, city police and county sheriff departments, jails and prisons, probation officers, criminal investigators, and their records managers.

The LEADR project has the following stakeholders:

  • State agencies as Fusion Centers and customers. States of Tennessee, South Carolina, and Arkansas host the system for their state and provide the "fusion" service at no charge to local agencies wishing to use it.

  • Local law enforcement agencies. City police and county sheriff departments; jails and prisons, probation officers, criminal investigators, and their records managers use the system to exchange their local data with others.

  • Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) as a deal broker and contract manager

  • South Carolina Research Authority. SCRA acts as the fiscal agent for the project.

  • Federal program assistance. National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center South East (NLETC SE) provided personnel to promote use of the software amongst other agencies.

  • Commercial vendor as IT service organization. Scientific Research Corporation (SRC), a government contractor with approximately 1,500 employees including those with open source related skill sets.

 

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Starting situation

Information is essential for solving crimes. Since criminals cross-jurisdictional boundaries, essential information must be readily available to law enforcement personnel. Two neighboring counties in the state of South Carolina experienced several events that led them to understand that lives might have been saved if they would have been able to share information across county jurisdictions. At that time the systems each county utilized were unable to easily exchange information.

Approach and proposed solution

With limited resources to invest in a new system, the county IT staff determined they could use open source resources to build a system that could share information between their organizations without requiring either agency to change or reinvest in the systems they already had in place. The state of South Carolina was impressed and became interested further investments to create a statewide resource for all counties. In 1999 South Carolina partnered with another state Tennessee to request federal grant funds to expand the project.

The State of Tennessee's Fusion Center needed to rapidly bring together data from law enforcement agencies throughout the state and share that data via an intuitive, web-based user interface. There was also a requirement to provide those agencies without a Records Management System (RMS), a web-based capability to enter law enforcement information that could then be shared statewide.

In response to this interest, the South Carolina Research Authority (SCRA) and its team member Scientific Research Corporation (SRC) responded to and supported the state's vision of an intelligence system based upon the Law Enforcement Automated Data Repository (LEADR) collection and sharing system.

Both Tennessee and South Carolina would take the system and host it in their state facilitates or "Fusion Centers" and provide the software free of cost to any local agency wishing to use it.

Summary of technologies and project tools used

The suite includes:

  • Lean and Agile Software Development

  • Redmine for configuration control and change management

  • Java

  • A custom internal project management system

Community governance model

Major decisions regarding significant changes or enhancements in the system are driven by the partner able to invest in the enhancements.

Licenses and Agreements. The LEADR system is built upon open source technology and is considered by the project team and leadership as free and open source for any law enforcement agency who desires to use it. It does not use an OSI-approved license, rather the project has created its own license, and which prohibits commercial use. Its license is the LEADR open license for criminal justice non-commercial use.

Community operating model

Major decisions regarding significant changes or enhancements in the system are driven by the partner able to invest in the enhancements. The commercial partner, SCR, does most of the coding. The community operates much as in the model of community source development, where the end user requirements, testing and acceptance are done through (in this case) the agile software development process.

All enhancements, improvements and updates to the software are shared back to all the community members.

Model of knowledge transfer

The LEADR software is available to any law enforcement agency that wishes to use it, free of license fee, under the LEADR Open License. Training and the "Train the Trainer" approach is an important component of knowledge transfer (see Training model section)

Training model

Training is provided through the commercial vendor SCR. On site Instructor-led training is available as a service by the vendor SCR. Key training modules are designed for Systems Administrators on Configuration and Trouble Shooting; for Law Enforcement Officers, Investigators and Dispatchers on Information Sharing and Investigation, and Records Management (Web RMS). An online certification process is provided which tests the end users understanding of the LEADR system and assures the agency that the training has been effective and their staff are now fully qualified to use it.

The training process includes a "Train the Trainer" strategy so agencies, once trained, have an individual in the organization that can continue to train new personnel and provide informational support, eliminating the need to return to the vendor for additional training and making Knowledge Transfer more complete.

Planning

Occurs as part of the governance process as outlined above.

Tools used to create the community

Limited tools have been used in creating the community. Phone calls, email correspondence and professional relationships between project partners that have worked together previously played a large roll in creating the community. Participation and presentation at industry specific conferences have also contributed to community building.

Change management

Is managed through the Redmine software system.

Results

The successful creation and ongoing maintenance of the LEADR project has resulted in a mature and stable operating platform for exchange of law enforcement information with adoption in three states and hundreds of local agencies. Case studies of crimes solved and prevented have been directly attributed to the use of the LEADR system.

Benefits

The system represents reduced cost for similar systems that are based on proprietary solutions. Key benefits:

  • Effective. Compliant with national standards Identifies suspects, vehicles and property

  • Economical. Open-source software is license fee-free, lower long-term cost of ownership

  • Interoperable. Easily integrates existing federal, state and local data sources and systems

  • Ease of Use. Non-technical end users can use intuitive, Web-based system

Key aspects to success

An important facilitator and keeper of the LEADR brand and strategy is the South Carolina Research Authority (SCRA). SCRA is a US based non stock, tax exempt applied research and commercialization services company. SCRA's services portfolio also includes developing custom collaborations within industry, government, and academia.

SCRA served as the prime contractor to further develop the core code for the LEADR system as well as sustaining the effort following the completion of the initial investment by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ). Without a centrally coordinated effort the project in its expanded form would not have been possible. SCRA's role included facilitating for funding, negotiating legal terms with the federal government, procuring development services to build upon the original open source code and managing that process.

The successful adoption of the solution thus far is attributed to its lower cost and ease of use; the lack of need to replace any existing systems at the local level; interoperable systems and open standards; compliance to industry-specific data standards for the exchange of information with federal agencies such the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

Lessons learned

Agile Software development provided an effective process that includes the end user throughout the process. The project attributes early success to identifying partners who had worked together before. Starting small within a trusted group was ideal in a regional situation to gain traction and make good progress in developing a set of useful modules for the system.

For the public administration for implementation, any needed interagency agreements and policies for data sharing should first be put in place so technical implementation is feasible.

Barriers encountered in the implementation of the community

Growing the community was slow at the inception of the project. Participating agencies were willing to share their experience, but did not have the time or resource to do marketing or outreach to build the community. The commercial partner SRC, which might have been a resource to do outreach or communication was limited instead to fulfilling the software development and support obligations for SCRA and did not have the authority to do otherwise.

SCRA's scope of participation was somewhat limited by its funding to provide resource a more expanded communications plan.

Barriers in the maintenance of the community

Priorities changed in US National Institute for Justice (NIJ) funding which directly impacted the community. Following a leadership change in 2009 NIJ decided to close nearly all the regional technology assistance centers, including NLECTC Southeast. Personnel who had supported outreach and community-building jobs were eliminated. It became unclear who would nurture or champion the community going forward.

Recommendations

The LEADR project was a sound technical project that solved a compelling problem, but as with many U.S. grant funded project did not include a clear vision of how the project would be sustained once the initial funding was gone. Sustainability for a community must include a reasonable share of the addressable market for the application in order to maintain critical mass for continued maintenance and investment in modification. This includes risk of loosing third party commercial support for the project as resources may be reassigned if the commercial partner cannot make a viable business case to continue to do so.

Of all our case studies within this international project, the LEADR system used the least open communications and is the most difficult to learn about through public documents, likely a missed opportunity to grow the community organically. This was due primarily to the project participants; although they understood open source software, tools and development methods and the value of sharing with others through an open license, no one associated with the project had experience with open source communities.

Recently the relationship between the NGO and the commercial partner has shifted, allowing more freedom for the commercial partner to identify potential new partners or community members. This has increased the business case for the partner providing development, training and support. Also going forward, it is more likely standard tools such as open wikis, forums and online documentation may accelerate the further growth of the user community.

Executive summary of the case study

Building on the success of a small open source project, two US states shared investments in developing a new information sharing system under an open source license for law enforcement agencies. In 1999 a grant from the National Institute of Justice funded additional development for the project. Today three states have the LEADR system running in their state data centers for law enforcement for the collection and analysis of information in the interest of public safety and they make the software and data sharing service available to any local agency at no cost.

Many organizations were involved in the creation of the project. In addition to the law enforcement user community, a third party facilitator, a commercial partner, a federal program partner, and a state legislator (senator) were involved in making funding available to expand the project beyond its smaller beginnings.

The success of the project attracted the attention of the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in late 2008. DHS had funded many IT projects and wanted to consider how open source might play a role in their strategy to make effective investments of Research and Development (R&D) funds.

The main barrier to expansion of the project appeared to be the lack of a dedicated resource to do outreach. While the law enforcement agencies were busy fulfilling their public safety mission, activities such as marketing and community development activities such as writing papers, developing presentations and speaking at conferences fall outside their resource capabilities as well as their core program. With the tremendous benefit of such a project to achieving their operational objectives, the need to modify the model to maintain the software and associated community remains a priority for the states now vested in the project.

Recent additional interest in the project, a shift in the role and relationship between partners, and a general increase in acceptance of open source within US government agencies indicate a stronger long term outlook for the LEADR community.