Steps for Developing Technology for an Arrest Alert System

1. Create a planning team
A prosecutor’s office seeking to implement an arrest alert system should establish a team to manage and facilitate planning and implementation. The core planners should be prosecutors and information technology experts. Project partners and collaborators, such as members from the law enforcement agency that manages arrest data, should also be invited to join the planning team. To maximize efficiency, the planning team should appoint a project manager who is familiar with the technology that will need to be developed, who will coordinate and delegate tasks, and set deadlines.

At the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office (the Manhattan D.A.’s Office), an Assistant District Attorney who was familiar with technology, a tech-savvy paralegal and the information technology department worked together to create the Arrest Alert system in collaboration with other veteran Assistant District Attorneys. The head of the information technology department was the project manager who handled requests and delegated tasks.

2. Formulate a statement of the technology problem and conduct a needs assessment
The first task in any information exchange project is to gather and analyze requirements.

To have a functioning arrest alert system, a prosecutor’s office must have access to arrest data in a timely fashion and be able to effectively use that data. Since most prosecutors do not have instant access to arrest data, it helps to articulate that need in a simple statement, such as:

Having access to up-to-date arrest information pertaining to target individuals, charges, and locations will help prosecutors make better- informed decisions. However, arrest data is gathered by Agency X (and possibly multiple agencies), and it is not shared with prosecutors in a timely or useful manner.

In order to access this information, a prosecutor’s office may have to coordinate with law enforcement and information technology teams. For information on how the Manhattan D.A.’s Office accessed arrest data, see the fact sheet “Creating an Arrest Alert System: Identifying and Managing Priority Arrests.”

Once the data is accessed from the partner agencies that collect and store it, a prosecutor’s office will need to be able to process the data. To understand how to do this, the information technology experts should interview key players who will use the arrest alert system and ask them:
» What information do you need to do your job more effectively?
» When do you need it?
» How would you like to see information displayed?
» What would be the best way to alert you of a new arrest?
» Do prosecutors need to be able to record comments on individual arrests?
» How many people need to have access to the system?

Based on this information, the planning team can create a report that outlines the concerns and needs of those who will use the system.

3. Document how the system currently works
Next, the information technology experts should analyze and document the current environment. They should assess the processes already in place, including the organizational, hardware, and software infrastructure. Although the objective is documentation at this stage, the focus should be on the strategic goals, rather than on the technological details.

For an arrest alert system, the information technology experts need to assess the ways the relevant partner agencies create and use arrest information. The following questions can serve as a guide:
» What information is already being collected?
» Who is collecting it?
» How are they collecting it?
» What is the data being used for?
» What data are not being collected and is it possible to develop procedures to begin collecting it?

The information technology experts also need to survey the jurisdiction’s technology infrastructure, determining what types of computers, server(s), network (LAN), and other relevant features (e.g., are prosecutors provided with smart phones?) are in place..

Finally, the planning team should examine existing information-sharing arrangements with partner agencies to determine whether a new memorandum of understanding should be signed to permit new uses of data under an arrest alert system.

4. Create a design document for the new system
With these questions answered, the information technology experts should write a design document. This is known as a “future state.”

The design document should include information such as caseload (e.g., approximately how many arrests will the information system need to keep track of?); a list of data fields; functional requirements; sketches of what the computer screens should look like; and business rules (e.g., specifications about who should have access to different pieces of information).

At this stage the planning team at the prosecutor’s office and its partner agencies will have agreed upon the data elements that will be exchanged, and the information technology experts on the planning team will start to determine how individual agencies’ computer systems will communicate (known as system interoperability), even if these are not necessarily resolved at this stage. Some of these issues will be addressed in Step 5.

5. Getting there: Conduct a gap analysis and create a work plan and budget
When partner agencies share information with one another, they typically implement a layer of technology in between them so the systems are insulated from one another. This allows for a greater degree of security, flexibility, and autonomy between the information partners. As a best practice, the new layer would incorporate well-established open-source standards rather than proprietary solutions or vendor-specific technologies. This would enable users to participate regardless of the vendor or technology used—and allows independence in these choices.

This is also the stage where the planning team should discuss and consider adopting a formal governance structure for the future-state system. The purpose is to establish a vehicle that can ensure a commitment to a shared approach for the arrest alert system. The commitment of all the partner agencies should help reduce the cost and effort of information sharing by eliminating redundancy and enabling better use of resources.

Lastly, the project manager should create a work plan and budget that outlines the scope of the project, lays out the deliverables, and assigns tasks. The work plan should include a realistic timeline that establishes deadlines but also allows flexibility in case of delays. The project manager should consider using the design document as the basis for developing a budget.

6. Build the system
Following the proposed work plan, programmers will be ready to build the information system.

In the Manhattan D.A.’s Office, prior to the creation of the Arrest Alert system, the complaint room already received an updated data feed of all of the arrests in Manhattan after individual arrestees were fingerprinted. The Arrest Alert system is created from that feed. When arrests occur, they are automatically compared with the arrest alerts in the Crime Strategies Unit’s system. If there is a match between the two, the program is coded to automatically send an email to the subscribers of that particular arrest alert.

The Manhattan D.A.’s Office upgraded to a larger and more modern sever to accommodate the Arrest Alert system. Also, all prosecutors were given smart phones for various reasons. Since the prosecutors have access to their email at all times via their smart phones, they are able to be notified of arrest alerts regardless of whether they are in the office.

7. Train users on the system
Once the system is built, users need to know how to navigate and use the system effectively and appropriately. Prosecutors will need to understand the benefits of an arrest alert system, such as being exposed to a more holistic view of an individual’s activity in the community beyond prior convictions, before the individual is arraigned. Prosecutors will also need to understand how to create, edit, and receive arrest alerts, while ensuring data protection and privacy concerns.

As staff comes and goes, regular training sessions should be required. Conducting trainings, offering a help desk, and working with information technology experts to create standardized procedures that are easy to follow will help ensure that the system remains organized and effective. It is important that users of the system input data as accurately as possible; design adjustments and trainings can help encourage accuracy.

The Manhattan D.A.’s Office’s information technology department runs a training program for all new employees, as well as a help desk to offer assistance.

8. Maintain the system
Once the system is set up and functioning properly, the information technology team can provide routine maintenance to ensure that the system continues to run effectively and efficiently. The use of an arrest alert system will grow as more and more prosecutors interact with it, its geographical area is expanded, and prosecutors’ needs change. In addition, developments in technology might mean the system will require upgrades.

When the Manhattan D.A.’s Office determined that the Arrest Alert system should include alerts for arrests in all five counties that comprise New York City (Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens, and Staten Island), the information technology department assessed its hardware and decided to make an investment in additional servers to handle the increase in arrest data.