Identifying target individuals, locations, and charges within the jurisdiction

The foundation of an arrest alert system is the identification of priority targets. Accordingly, the first challenge in implementing a new arrest alert system is determining how to identify the target defendants, charges, and arrest locations.

Priority defendants might range from persistent lower-level offenders to those who commit violent felonies. Priority charges might differ from one neighborhood to another. For some neighborhoods, retail theft might be a major concern; for others, it might be gang activity. Target arrest locations will also vary—for instance, they could be areas with high concentrations of low income housing or in central business districts, depending on local crime patterns and concerns.

The first step in identifying priority arrests is gaining an accurate understanding of local crime issues by analyzing data and reaching out to both community stakeholders and law enforcement.

To begin developing and planning for intelligence-driven prosecution strategies, including the Arrest Alert system, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office divided the county into five geographic areas. The areas were divided based on types and volume of crime, and they were drawn along police precinct lines in order to ensure coordination with the New York City Police Department (NYPD). A senior prosecutor was assigned to each designated area. To become experts on the crime issues within their areas, these prosecutors met with police officers and community stakeholders to learn about local crime. They analyzed statistics on crime, gang activity, and hotspots. And they asked precinct commanders to identify their worst 25 criminals and explain why each was a priority. The Office’s Crime Strategies Unit collected all this information in a briefing book, which summarized each precinct’s criminal activity.

This was the Manhattan D.A.’s Office’s starting point for identifying priority targets and populating the Arrest Alert system. Ever since, prosecutors have been able to create new arrest alerts based on an individual, charge, or location they determine to be a priority. In order to remain current on evolving local crime trends and priority targets, the Manhattan D.A.’s Office maintains an interactive desktop application that is updated frequently—often by information generated through the Arrest Alert system. Additionally, senior prosecutors associated with each area brief the Office’s trial divisions and executives twice a year on crime trends observed throughout New York City.

2. Coordinating with law enforcement and information technology teams to access arrest data

To access arrest data, the planning team should determine how the criminal justice identification process works, who manages the associated systems, and what type of network the data transfer process would require.

Accessing arrest data from law enforcement is a key step in implementing an arrest alert system. This data might be processed and stored by several law enforcement agencies in a given jurisdiction. Some jurisdictions might have to obtain information from one or more local police departments, while others might have additional agencies processing arrest data, such as a state or local criminal justice coordinating agency or a sheriff’s office. In these cases, the prosecutor’s office will have to coordinate with multiple offices to obtain this data.

In addition to law enforcement buy-in, accessing arrest data requires collaboration between the prosecutor’s office’s information technology team and the other relevant agencies’ information technology teams. This collaboration is key to ensure that the connection is seamless and the information is transmitted swiftly and accurately. It is important for the information technology teams to participate in the planning process in order to ensure that the information is in a usable format and the transfer is efficient. For information on how to develop the technology for an arrest alert system, see the fact sheet “Creating an Arrest Alert System: Developing the Technology.”

In Manhattan, the D.A.’s Office worked closely with the NYPD to understand how the arrest data was processed and to access that data. When a person is arrested in New York, the NYPD transmits an electronic copy of fingerprints to the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, which then accesses and updates the arrestee’s criminal history (if any) and returns the arrestee’s New York State Identification Number and full criminal history to the police. The NYPD then sends the Manhattan D.A.’s Office an electronic link with information about each new arrest.

To make this information available to prosecutors in a timely and useful manner, the Manhattan D.A.’s Office’s information technology department created the Arrest Alert system, which formatted the information provided through this link into a system that could send alerts. By receiving arrest information on priority targets and being able to react accordingly, prosecutors are able to coordinate more efficiently and more effectively with law enforcement.

The head of the Manhattan D.A.’s Office’s information technology department was the project manager and her department played a crucial role in the creation and implementation of the Arrest Alert system.

3. Identifying who will manage the arrest alert system

It will be important to identify the human resources that are needed to manage the data that will eventually be processed through an arrest alert system and to determine which resources are currently available and which need to be acquired. A prosecutor’s office should designate an individual or a department to lead and manage its arrest alert system and govern decisions regarding access and security on an ongoing basis. Prosecutors with special skills in technology and crime analysis are a great resource for this type of initiative. Also, a strong collaboration with the office’s information technology team should be maintained.

In addition to existing technological and human resources, prosecutor’s offices can also benefit from internship programs. Student interns who work for college credit can help with numerous tasks, such as sifting through large amounts of information.

In the Manhattan D.A.’s Office, the Crime Strategies Unit manages the Arrest Alert system as well as the Office’s other intelligence-driven prosecution strategies. This unit consists of a chief, five senior prosecutors assigned to geographic areas, five intelligence analysts, and an administrative assistant. The intelligence analysts assist with managing the flow of information. Their responsibilities include analyzing crime data, constructing crime reports, and providing intelligence (statistics, mapping) to prosecutors. Student interns assist in identifying useful information from phone calls made from jail and other sources, observe trials, and tour correctional and law enforcement facilities. They generally attend local universities and colleges and receive credit for participating in the internship program.

4. Organizing the data

A crucial step in creating an arrest alert system is organizing the data. For ease of managing information, setting up notifications, and generating reports, the system should be able to categorize arrestees and their alerts. In many jurisdictions, when an arrest occurs, the accused is fingerprinted by a local law enforcement agency. Fingerprints are sent to a central database which matches them to a unique identification number or assigns the individual a new number in the case of a first-time arrest. When accessing the arrest data, the prosecutor’s office should also receive this identification number, along with the arrest information.

Associating a priority individual’s identification number with a group or folder system will greatly increase its usability. As described in the example below, the ability to “nest” an identification number down to at least three levels is optimal (though the system should also allow for fewer, depending upon user needs).

The Manhattan D.A.’s Office’s Arrest Alert system’s user interface, available at each prosecutor’s desktop, is organized into three different categories: My Alerts (e.g., a specific homicide case), Pre-Defined Alerts (e.g., Bench Warrants, Open Cases, etc.), and Team Alerts (e.g., Manhattan Gangs). Within each category there are three levels of folders (e.g., Manhattan Gangs > Gang ABC > Associates) under which an ID (priority target) can be housed. A target can be located in multiple folders (e.g., target X could be in an Open Cases Folder, in a folder as a suspect in a specific homicide, in a particular gang folder, and in a housing location folder).

5. Deciding who has access to arrest alert notifications and how to deal with sensitive information

Although arrest data is public information, care should be taken to ensure that an arrest alert system is only used for its intended purpose within prosecutor’s offices. A prosecutor’s office should establish an access policy, outlining clearly who will have access to what information on the user interface, as well as, who will receive notifications and sensitive information. Within that framework, the user who creates an initial arrest alert should have the ability to set individual permissions, including who can receive the alert, what information is included in the alert, and who can edit the alert. However, the system should have a safety mechanism that prevents users from authorizing notifications to persons outside of the network without permission.

In addition to overall permissions, the system should have the capacity to restrict sharing sensitive information to all recipients of an arrest alert. Users should be permitted to add notes to alerts when they are created and amend notes as needed. Creating two categories— public and private notes—will enable the owners of the alerts either to share important information with everyone who receives the alerts or to restrict the sending of a note to the arrest alert owner(s).

In Manhattan, only prosecutors and paralegals working at the D.A.’s Office can create arrest alerts. The user who creates the initial alert can set permissions for the alert, within the established system parameters. When creating a new arrest alert in the system, there are checkboxes that set the level of permissions for other users. The Manhattan D.A.’s Office’s Arrest Alert system has a range of permission levels including: 1) individuals who can create alerts for groups of targets and subscribers; 2) individuals who can only create arrest alerts for themselves for particular targets; and 3) individuals with “read only” permission. Depending on the circumstances, prosecutors may share arrest alerts with other relevant individuals in law enforcement, such as police, parole, and corrections officers. To request an alert be automatically sent to someone outside of the D.A.’s Office, there is a specific checkbox and blank space to enter the email address as well as a reason why that person should receive the alert. The Crime Strategies Unit must first approve law enforcement partners who will be registered to receive alerts.

The Arrest Alert system allows the user who creates an alert to include relevant notes and classify these as either public or private. Creating two categories of notes allows the owners of the alerts either to share important information with everyone who receives the alerts or to restrict the sending of a note to only the owner(s). For example, if a prosecutor creates an alert pertaining to a certain individual who is part of an important ongoing investigation, it may be in the interest of the investigation to only alert recipients to call the creator of the alert if the target individual is arrested, without divulging sensitive information about the investigation to everyone who receives the alert or has access to it.