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Police rescue

Police rescue

New Zealand Police has salvaged what it can from its doomed Incis project – its so-called ‘smart policing’ implementation. Seven years on, the unit’s crime fighting team is becoming a force to be reckoned with.

The smart policing technology promised to the New Zealand public a decade ago is finally becoming a reality, allowing New Zealand Police to walk out from under the shadow of embarrassment cast by the aborted Incis project. Incis (Integrated National Crime Information System) was the biggest cock-up in New Zealand IT history. The cure-all crime fighting system from fantasyland ended up overblown, overdue and over budget, resulting in a government versus IBM lawsuit and strict new accountability rules for all public sector IT projects.

In the past five years, Police has upgraded or replaced much of the desktop, server, and communications infrastructure and systems architecture. However, it’ll still be another 15 months before it can completely sideline legacy systems.

A new Police IT crew is in the process of extracting the final data off the 25-year-old Unisys box that hosts the remaining components of the Wanganui Law Enforcement System (LES), which Incis was supposed to replace. By February 2004 – seven years after the original deadline – the task was only 60 per cent complete.

The three-stage Incis project, based on IBM’s now defunct OS/2 operating system, two MVS mainframes and the development of copious code, was to have run from September 1994 to late 1997. By December 1997, the original architecture was found to be unworkable and the project restarted with $20 million added to the budget.

By August 1999, Police and the government were in crisis mode, trying to rescue what they could from the runaway project.

Despite a 4000-page contract, only one stage had been completed and it was $30 million over its original $98 million budget.

Incis was to be paid for by efficiencies from the new system and the slashing of 540 police from the front line. The staff cuts were made but the promises of Incis were never delivered.

IBM claimed it had met its contractual obligations, saying Police demanded too many changes. It formally withdrew and the government began legal proceedings for damages and breach of contract. The matter was settled out of court.

Stop-gap measure

A new Police IT team, seeing Incis was dead in the water, began urgent work on a new core system based on elements of the IBM mainframe application.

By May 1999, they had ported it to an Oracle database running on a Sun Solaris box, made it Y2K compliant and begun urgent redevelopment.

The system was up and running when the State Services Commission report came out in December advising the way forward after an official inquiry into the Incis debacle.

Recommendations included replacing IBM’s passé OS/2 operating system with Microsoft’s NT Server across 362 LAN servers, selling the MVS mainframe and completing an information system strat-egic plan (ISSP) with milestones to be achieved between 2001 and 2004.

Police national manager of applications Murray Mitchell, involved in the organisation’s IT for 12 years, found himself in a new role with a dozen different projects under his belt. As well as directing Y2K compatibility, he and infrastructure man-ager Rohan Mendis were responsible for replacement systems to future proof the entire Police force.

In 2001, Mitchell put forward a six-point strategy to get Police off LES in carefully managed increments at a cost of $17.5 million over four years.

Sun outshines IBM

Sun boxes running Solaris were installed in a police-hosted environment in Wellington and at an Auckland disaster recovery site. An HDS storage area network (SAN) was also commissioned. By the end of 2001, OS/2 had gone and during 2002 all relevant software and data was ported to Solaris. The IBM mainframe was sold offshore.

“From our point of view, there is no such thing as the Incis software, we’ve only used a very small component; it just doesn’t exist anymore,” says Mitchell.

The Police IT team, in collaboration with a small group of IBM software engineers, continued to tweak and add functionality to the new corporate database of ‘persons, locations and events’, now known as the National Intelligence Application (NIA). It uses a three-tier client-server architecture enabling applications to be distributed to every police desktop across a nationwide intranet more efficiently than the previous proprietary network.

Officers can view visual linking of persons, locations and telephones and have links to a geographic information system (GIS), enabling map-based location queries, for example showing all burglaries in a particular patch over a given time.

Single screen view

By May 2005, police officers throughout New Zealand will have full access to law enforcement capabilities from the NIA Explorer including laying charges, check-ing scars, marks and tattoos, and looking into the youth aid, firearms or stolen property database.

This modern interface is a welcome change to the existing LES screens that require users to toggle through the options on a menu and separately log on to various databases.

As the Department of Corrections, the Land Transport Safety Authority (LTSA) and the Ministry of Justice (Courts) moved off LES, their data was mirrored back to ensure Police could maintain full access. Specific data and interaction standards were devised to keep the systems in relative harmony.

The annual $4 million cost of hosting the LES at EDS’ data centre in Auckland has been shared by the various agencies. However, by July 2002, they had exited, leaving Police to foot the bill alone.

Police data remaining on the system includes a master person index and a national criminal history for all convicted persons, case management, records relating to family violence, a firearms register, document management and a host of other applications.

Traffic data and criminal histories were duplicated between LES and NIA and lost, found and stolen property; firearms licensing; youth offenders and youth aid moved across to the platform by the end of 2002.

A middleware layer to enable multiple applications to access common data and assist with data integrity is being piloted to integrate and consolidate existing systems. At the heart of this is the Enterprise Information Store (EIS), which acts as a central repository.

A quality check of all names and alerts on people and places has recently been completed to re-synchronise with NIA and ensure the data is as good as it gets. “We’ve scrubbed the system to remove any extraneous data and make sure there are no duplications and ensure we have linkages between master names and aliases and that alert types are still valid,” says Mitchell.

Design principles

Now users on NIA can link files and input a range of data that might be relevant to an inquiry. “The moment you start keying in a name, the NIA brings up a list of candidates so you can quickly refine a search with date of birth and other details to ensure there’s no duplication when you create a new file.”

As of March this year, message switching – previously conducted on a legacy email-style system using pre-formatted screens – became part of the workflow capabilities of Lotus Notes, now standard across Police desktops. If there’s a fatal traffic accident, for example, an officer now fills in a single form to email to relevant people.

A prototype for a new prosecutions system for processing and charging offenders is also being demonstrated throughout the police districts.

“We’re getting feedback from each iteration. By the time we bolt down the final design, they’ll be familiar with it and will have had a chance to contribute,” says Mitchell.

Mitchell is also in charge of introducing the new technology and tools, and helping to train more than 10,000 people in their use. He is also intimately involved in scoping the next ISSP spanning 2004 to 2007, due for release by the end of this year.

This will provide a plan to make police more mobile and effective through greater use of portable technologies. For example, police on the beat may no longer have to go back to their vehicles to make an RF call to check on licence plates, criminal records or crime trends.

The promise is mobile access to data and systems from anywhere. Ideally, that could mean e-ticketing, which would reduce the paper work and administration time and thin out radio traffic. While executing a search warrant, mobile devices may be used to look up serial numbers for stolen property or help people identify criminals from digital images displayed on screen.

Solid base

Rather than being left behind the rest of the world in terms of smart police systems and crime fighting technology, Mitchell – after consultation with police departments in Australia, the UK and the US – believes the delays caused by Incis may well have an upside.

“We’ve seen advancements in mobile computing including the ability to use voice or speech and handwriting recog-nition, and the devices themselves have matured significantly in the past few years. We’re in a much better position now,” he says.

So why has the current project, largely driven by Police’s core IT team, been kept on time and on budget unlike its predecessor?

“Like all large IT projects, nothing happens by accident. It’s having good executive support, project management, definition of what needs to be done, sticking to your scope and having good people and vendors,” says Mitchell.

Everything has been tracked and managed across the IT team in Microsoft Project.

“I have an enormous project plan on the wall which is all base-lined with a set of traffic lights on every task,” says Mitchell. “It has worked extremely well. We compare each week with the next, make sure we’re running to task and make adjustments accordingly.”

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