Clark County and Oregon police agencies will share the lowdown on criminals

A regional network of information will help them

By Emily Gillespie, Columbian breaking news reporter

Published:

 

Database Expansion

Clark County database

650,000 cases and 280,000 arrests.

570,000 individuals and 8,700 aliases.

300,000 vehicles.

Portland metro-area database

4.1 million cases and 1.6 million arrests.

1.75 million individuals and 1.25 million aliases.

1.13 million vehicles.

Police officers will tell you: Criminals don't have boundaries.

That fact can put law enforcement at a disadvantage, with most agencies operating within city, county and state lines.

Take, for example, a career criminal from Portland, said Vancouver police Cmdr. Dave King. Portland officers are familiar with the individual — they know what he looks like, what car he drives, which crimes he is likely tied to — sometimes due to years of interactions. Washington law enforcement, however, isn't privy to that information, King said. It's the same for Portland officers dealing with criminals with Washington records.

That will all change as agencies in Clark County work with those in four Oregon counties over the next year and a half to create a regionwide network of information that will allow as many as 39 police agencies to easily share their reports.

"The fact is, you don't know what you don't know," King said. "Criminals go across the border just like we go across the border. Knowledge is power, and sharing that information makes us that much more efficient."

Crossing the lines

Some agencies in Clark County are already sharing their knowledge.

For example, the Clark County Sheriff's Office and police in Vancouver, Washougal and Camas share reporting software, and officers can view reports from each agency.

Across the river, the Portland Police Bureau shares a central records system with 26 other agencies in four adjacent Oregon counties.

The project, called the Regional Justice Information Network or RegJIN for short, will add Clark County and other Oregon law enforcement agencies to the shared database.

The set-up is beneficial for all involved agencies. Portland law enforcement will be able to view Clark County's 650,000 cases, and officers in Southwest Washington will gain access to more than 4.1 million cases from Oregon.

Jerry Schlesinger, RegJIN project manager for the city of Portland, said that sharing case information has been advantageous for the Portland area since it began adding agencies into its central data system in 1991.

"Unfortunately, bad guys don't stop at borders. They go across," Schlesinger said. "The ability to see their activities across the region helps law enforcement prevent crime."

System 'on borrowed time'

The idea to expand the regional database dates back to 2006, when the Portland police began looking to replace its aging software.

"The current system is old. It's on borrowed time," Schlesinger said. "They've been trying to upgrade it for years."

Similarly, the data software shared in Clark County is on its last legs, King said. During the process of planning an upgrade, Vancouver and Clark County officials became aware of Portland's efforts and jumped at the opportunity to access information on Oregon criminals and to avoid having to pay for a costly upgrade.

"As a county, it gives us the opportunity to move to new technology and not foot the entire bill for it," said Scott Kealoha, who is heading the project for the Clark County Sheriff's Office.

Portland has earmarked about $10 million to buy the new program from Versaterm, a Canadian-based company that has worked with public safety agencies across the United States.

The other agencies that participate in the network will split the cost to maintain the program by paying a yearly fee of between $45 and $75 per sworn officer. The cost will depend on how many agencies choose to participate. The Clark County Sheriff's Office and the Vancouver Police Department have committed to the project. Smaller police departments such as Camas, Ridgefield and Washougal have said they are interested in the project but are working to see whether they can make it work both financially and logistically.

Over the past three years, the Vancouver Police Department has secured $1 million in federal grants to go toward the records-management system. The money will pay for new hardware required for the software and to build an interface.

The agency has also offered to share some of that funding with the smaller agencies in Clark County, King said.

"VPD and CCSO are committed to making it possible for the small agencies to participate," King said. "If all the agencies in Clark County get on the RegJIN system, we could share information on local criminals and crime trends, as well as gain access to all the Portland agencies, and it increases our effectiveness in combating crime."

The new records setup has the potential to affect a $1.5 million contract that the Vancouver Police Department has with the Clark County Sheriff's Office to maintain its record services. Services include things such as responding to record requests made by the public and providing 24-hour warrant checks for officers.

What exactly that new agreement between the two agencies will look like, however, has yet to be determined.

Looking forward

All interested agencies in Clark, Multnomah, Washington, Clackamas and Columbia counties are scheduled to sign a master intergovernmental agreement — which stipulates how all the agencies will work together — by April.

In October, each agency will then sign a second contract with the Portland Police Bureau, which is also when city councils and county commissions will have to sign off.

The goal is to have the system go live by November 2014.

A lot of the details are in the works — for example, with different state laws in Washington, agencies on this side of the river are working to make sure their interface works for their enforcement.

The software also has the ability to manage property and evidence departments and the jail system, among other things. The details of whether local agencies will use this portion of Versaterm's capabilities have yet to be determined.

Once in place though, the network of information is expected to do a big part in leveling the playing field for law enforcement.

"This removes the anonymity that borders create," King said. "We want everyone's information. … The thicker the dictionary, the more words you're going to get right."

Emily Gillespie: 360-735-4522; http://twitter.com/col_cops;emily.gillespie@columbian.com.