09/23/2004

After Problems, Ala. Gets $1 Million to Enhance Crime Data Links

By Bob Johnson, The Associated Press

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - After high-profile problems, the state is getting almost $1 million to enhance the computerized system that allows police to share information about crimes and criminals with other departments.

Alabama, where evidence in the Washington sniper case was slow to come to light, is one of 12 states to receive a grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for information technology. The state's grant of $990,298 is the second largest given out.

"One of our homeland security priorities is getting information about people of concern into the hands of local law enforcement as quickly as possible," Gov. Bob Riley said Wednesday in a release announcing the grant.

Alabama Homeland Security Director Jim Walker said the money will mostly go to improve the computer systems of the Alabama Criminal Justice Information System, which is responsible for making sure state law enforcement officers can share information with each other and with law enforcement agencies across the country.

The director of the system, Maury Mitchell, said it touches the lives of many people in Alabama, even though most probably don't know it.

"Any time you are pulled over by police, you are automatically checked by law enforcement in the national computer," Mitchell said.

He said currently some of the information collected by local law enforcement officers is not making its way into the statewide or national computer systems. He said the grant will allow the system to expand its ability to receive information.

"An officer in Montgomery might not know that something similar to what he's investigating happened in Prattville, but now he will be able to put the information in a computer and see it," Mitchell said.

Two years ago, evidence at a Montgomery crime scene was slow in getting connected to the series of sniper killings in the Washington, D.C., area, but eventually helped solve the case.

Mitchell said steps already have been taken to solve that type of problems, but he said this grant should help the state make further improvements.

"This will provide a new way for law enforcement to share information," Mitchell said.

Walker said every state was asked to submit a proposal for spending the homeland security information technology money.

"This was a real coup for us. It should help us get information to law enforcement officers quickly," Walker said.

The $1 million from the department's Information Technology and Evaluation Program is in addition to $37 million the state is already receiving this year for homeland security.

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