Bringing Criminal Justice Into the Information Age

The data in the CriMNet system includes electronic fingerprints and photos, as well as an individual’s record of convictions, probation status, and whether there are outstanding arrest warrants. The system will also tell police whether there are restrictions on driving or alcohol, and if the person is prohibited from carrying a firearm, or has a restraining order.

That’s a big improvement over the old approach, where a county sheriff who wanted to know if a person he has detained has any warrants pending from other counties in the state would have to call each jurisdiction separately to find the information. Now, the sheriff uses a standard Web browser to run a query on CriMNet, much like an internet search engine.

The system is more than just a data repository, however. “It allows people to subscribe to certain pieces of data,” says Billeter. “If a particular defendant is sentenced, that information can be sent to people who need to know about it, rather than making them check every day.”

CriMNet was specifically designed to be more than simply a large database, says Billeter. “Several other states have tried to build similar systems,” he says, “by create very big data warehouses. What we’re doing is interconnecting the systems so everyone can share others data.”

In implementing CriMNet, Minnesota started with the state-wide systems, like the state corrections, courts and parole systems. From there, it is working its way down to incorporate smaller agencies. So far, more than 100 local police departments and county sheriffs are online. In January of next year, the state plans to hook up to CriMNet every criminal justice agency in Carver county, which is located near Minneapolis/St. Paul.