Episode 11: Understanding the Goals of the Global Justice Information Sharing Initiative with Kevin Bowling


Technology makes our lives easier in many different ways…but can it help keep us safer, too? In this episode, Kevin Bowling, current chairperson of the Global Advisory Committee, takes us through the purpose and goals of the Global Justice Information Sharing Initiative and how it benefits state and federal agencies throughout the U.S.


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Kate Storey: Welcome to the Paperless Productivity podcast, where we give you the tips, tricks and knowhow to solve your biggest workflow challenges and bring greater productivity into your workplace every day.

s our world becomes ever more connected, we realize the impact that technology can have in serving the public. Digital kiosks at your local department of motor vehicles, court documents available for download from your laptop, even text messages to remind you of jury duty. But technology can also serve an even larger purpose. Improving public safety by keeping criminal information easily accessible among members of the justice community around the global. That is the goal of the global justice information sharing initiative, led by the global advisory community, to help steer and facilitate these global justice information sharing goals.

Joining us today is Kevin Bowling, current chairperson of the Global Advisory Committee, Court Administrator for Michigan’s 20th Circuit Court and former President of the National Association for Court Management. So he will some excellent insight to share on this. Kevin, thanks for joining us today.

Kevin Bowling: Thank you Kate, I really appreciate the opportunity to join you for this podcast and to share a little bit about the work of the Global Advisory Committee.
Kate: Great. So first, before we get started, can you tell us a bit more about what the Global Advisory Committee is, who it serves, what it does?
Kevin: Sure. Often times, Global is referred to as a group of groups. It represents more than 30 independent organizations, that span the spectrum of law enforcement, judicial organizations, correctional facilities and other related bodies. The reason we come together has to do with the Global Justice Information Sharing Initiative, which was started at the federal level 18 years ago and Global as an organization is actually a Federal Advisory Committee. In that role, we advise the U.S. Attorney General on justice information sharing and integration initiatives.

We were really created to support the broad scale exchange of justice and public safety information. We promote standards based electronic information exchange, just to make sure that the entire justice community has timely, accurate, complete and accessible information that can be shared in a secure and trusted environment.

Kate: Okay. Yeah. And I know that the mission of the committee is described as being the efficient sharing of data among justice entities and I know that group describes that as being at the very heart of modern public safety in law enforcement. So what does that mean to you and into the group?
Kevin: Well, I think two of those words that you used in your intro really get to the heart of the matter and that’s public safety. That’s really what we’re trying to support through the work of the Global Advisory Committee. We want to support those people that are keeping our nation and our community safe. There are threats to our safety that come from not just elsewhere in the world, but sometimes just around the block and often our recommendations or the resources that we produce are helpful to law enforcement and other justice agencies in learning some of the new technology that’s available or best practices for information sharing, so that we can really focus on this primary issue of public safety.
Kate: Yeah, that’s definitely a really important initiative and I’m sure that the committee really works hard to focus on that. So, what do you feel is the impact of the type of this information sharing? What kind of impact does that have, like you said, not only around the country, perhaps around the globe, but right here in your own neighborhood?
Kevin: Well, there are a lot of different impacts Kate, and I can’t over emphasize any of these. Something that I think many of your listeners are familiar with as an example is the alert system. People have heard about things like amber alerts that exist, when there is a missing child and if a child’s been abducted or endangered in some way, then these amber alerts can go out. Well, when amber alerts started, that was part of efforts with the Global Advisory Committee and the Bureau of Justice Assistance and other information sharing groups.

We also have blue alerts, that are available for law enforcement when we’re trying to help deal with violent criminals, who may pose a direct and imminent threat to law enforcement or to different communities. And we looked at starting other kinds of alerts, like silver alerts for example, that might focus on information exchange, that would help the elderly and more vulnerable populations.

That’s one specific example, just the alert system, to share information, but we also look at nationally recognized protection of privacy and civil liberties. When we start talking about sharing information, a lot of information, often times it can be very sensitive information or private information and one of the things that Global has been able to do very effectively, is not just to look at the side of sharing information, but also to provide training materials and resources for justice agencies, about the importance of privacy issues and civil liberty issues that go hand in hand with information sharing.

That’s the real critical part of our mission, as well as providing standards, adopting standards so that when law enforcement or other justice agencies are comparing information or sharing information, that we’re able to speak the same language, that we have a similar, if you will, data dictionary. So that when it’s important to compare apples with apples, we’re doing that well and not comparing apples with oranges.

Those are all parts of how the Global Advisory Committee looks at working its mission with that efficient sharing of data among justice entities. We want to do it in ways that are going to be helpful, are going to allow our justice agencies across the country to be more responsive and to be able to help folks in our communities in very tangible ways.

Kate: Yeah, that’s really encompassing in many different ways as you mentioned physical safety, information safety, there is a lot of different elements that especially as our society progresses from a technological perspective, that we all really need to be well connected and as you said, speaking the same language for that. Especially when you mentioned the alerts and everything, it sounds like technology plays really a large part in this. Can you tell me a little bit more about that?
Kevin: I’m going to do my best Kate for that. But I’m going to do it with a caveat. One of the reasons I got involved with the Global Advisory Committee and in my role there, I represent the National Association for Court Management, which is the largest court management organization in the world. And we represent court administrators and frontline court managers in every state in the country and in a variety of other countries as well.

But one of the things that I learned in my job is that I am not a technologist. So when you ask me a technology question, it’s always interesting to think about how I’m going to respond, because I know my limitations there and part of my motivation for becoming part of Global was to learn more about technology, since it really does have an impact on how we do business and how we can do a better job going forward.

So I pulled out a couple of specific examples, that are part of what we refer to as the Global Standards Package and all of this information is online and available for any of your listener’s, if they’re interested and I can give you the website later on if you like. But even just a quick search for global will take you to our information sharing page.

But with our global standards and this is part of the technology answer, we have something called a Global Reference Architecture. And it’s well designed technology architecture that allows various kinds of computer systems to talk with each other and to share information. And to do it in a safe and trusted way. We also, in that package, have what we affectionately refer to GFIPMS, which is the Global Federated Identity and Privilege Management Standards and this is a framework that provides guidelines and standards for figuring out who should have access, what kind security should be built into information exchanges at a technology level.

And then we also, one thing that we’re very proud of, that we worked on in its early stages and it has grown way beyond our expectations on the Global Advisory Committee and it’s something that is called the National Information Exchange Model, or NIEM. This is a data model, sort of a standards based approach to exchanging information. So we help eliminate confusion that’s associated with different data definitions, across law enforcement and public organizations, by providing a common vocabulary, that ensures consistency and understanding among state, federal, local and tribal agencies that we’re trying to serve.

So those are just a few examples of some of the technology standards or frameworks that the global advisory committee has developed over the years to help make sure that as new or emerging technologies come into play, that we have systems that can really talk to each other. I think where this came out most clearly many years ago and something that your listeners would, I’m sure, resonate with, was during 9/11, when we had that national catastrophe effect us and agencies started rushing in to assist with the carnage that was caused, it did not take very long to figure out that there was not a lot of inter-connectivity between different branches of government, among different law enforcement agencies or first responders.

Many of our technology systems failed us because they didn’t talk to each other. And out of that kind of experience, groups like the Global Advisory Committee have been working for many years to produce better products, that first responders, law enforcement and justice partners can use, to make sure that we can share information quickly, safely, with the proper protections in place for everyone involved and do it so that we can, again, focus on that earlier issue that we talked about, of public safety.

Kate: Absolutely. So it’s sounds like, this committee has really been looking at all the different facets of this and you could see how it’s all coming together at a broad level. But is there a way that the justice community can be involved in supporting these efforts at a more local level? That they can be involved in this as well?
Kevin: There really is a great way Kate and it’s something that, in fact, I would guess that even some ImageSoft products, like OnBase and through electronic filing systems and other systems that you support directly, where local justice agencies and courts could really do a better job. One specific example that I wanted to mention, has to do with disposition reporting.

So once cases come through the legal system, if we’re talking about criminal cases, at the end of the case there’s a disposition. A judge makes a ruling, somebody’s either convicted of an offense or they’re not. And if they’re convicted, what’s the sentence going to be. So all of that information rolls into something that we call a disposition on that case.

Well, there’s supposed to be reporting across the country, that goes back into tribal or local or state or national databases, where public safety agencies can go and look and see whether somebody’s got a criminal record. But if dispositions are not reported accurately or in a timely way, that information in those databases, are incomplete or inaccurate and that means there could be information on dispositions coming from courts that are not properly reported somewhere and maybe you’ve got a local law enforcement person that pulls somebody over on a traffic stop and because they don’t know that that person may have three convictions for assault or has previously assaulted a law enforcement officer or is suspected of carrying weapons or something along those lines, that local law enforcement may have no clue what they’re walking up to.

So it’s that kind of real life issue that we’re trying to do a better job with, when we look right down at the local level, at local law enforcement and at the local court level, of how we can do better for each other. How can do a better job of sharing information like dispositions. Recently, just last week, we had one of our Global Advisory Committee meetings in Washington, D.C. and I had a fascinating conversation with one of our members, who represents Indian country, represents a number of tribal organizations around the country and he explained because of some of the lack of resources that they have in many tribal agencies, dispositions are not regular reported at all.

We’ve got, in a state like Michigan, where we’ve got over a dozen federally recognized tribes and perhaps a lot of law enforcement activity that would go on in those areas, it’s very important that that information gets reported in timely and accurate fashion.

So I guess to answer your question about how can states both help and benefit or local law enforcement or justice agencies can help or benefit, it’s really focusing on sharing the information that is critical to all of our work and doing that in timely way. And there are systems that all of us know about that are available to report that kind of information.

Here in Michigan, most of that gets reported through Michigan State Police, through our law enforcement information network. And it may vary a little bit from state to state, but unlike on many law enforcement TV shows, where we watch folks with high tech gadgets or tables that can access information bases all over the world, a lot of local law enforcement agencies don’t have those kind of resources available to them.

So we really have to focus on the few standardized access points that will really help them do their job well.

Kate: Excellent. So there’s no cone of silence in most of organizations is what you’re saying?
Kevin: Yes. In most instances, there isn’t, that’s a great point Kate, there isn’t a cone of silence, most of this information is public information, it may be considered sensitive information and there may different levels of access for people who need it versus people who don’t need access to it, but we need to do a better job sharing as much as we possibly can, to keep everybody safe.
Kate: That’s an excellent point.
Kevin: Yes. Another example that immediately comes to mind, in the technology and the business world, we hear a lot today about evidence based practices and how we can do our work better by using evidence based practices, things that are tried and true and are supported by data. One of the areas where local courts, law enforcement agencies, correctional facilities, can all benefit from best practices, many of us are now using risk assessment instruments. Where we can share information about a person’s prior criminal history, about current offenses, about how they have fared in different correctional facilities and we can use these evidence based risk assessments that can also be automated for quick sharing of information and do a better job of focusing on behaviors that are either likely to be repeated in the future or not likely to be repeated.

So if we have folks that have a very low risk assessment, perhaps they don’t need to be using local jail or state wide prison resources and maybe they can be safely in the community, where using these risk assessments, if you have somebody that is a high risk and a clear danger to public safety, then you have better information to figure out how to handle that individual going forward.

So it’s a very important part of how we do our work and how we can improve how we do our work every day.

Kate: Absolutely. And you said that there was a lot of this information, as you mentioned, is available, especially the work of the committee, is all available on a website you mentioned, you would mind sharing that real quick, so everybody can check it out?
Kevin: Sure. If someone were to search for OJP, which stands for the Office of Justice programs, ojp.gov/global. That will take them to the Global Justice Information Sharing Initiative site and there, they can learn about a variety of resources. I had mentioned that global has been around for 18 years and in that time, we have created over 600 deliverables, different kinds of position papers on a variety of topics, specific templates for justice agency partners that can help them in creating policies or figuring out how to better share information.

Just to give you a couple of examples, I’m sure many of your listener’s have either seen on TV or heard over the last few years about the explosion of body worn cameras by law enforcement. So one of the things that we did when law enforcement started using cameras, is that we had to start looking at digital evidence and how are prosecutors or defense attorney’s or courts going to deal with digital evidence that’s now coming as videos from these body worn cameras. A lot of justice partners were not prepared for the explosion of this information, the volume of the information, in figuring out how it can best be used, whether it’s in the courtroom setting or investigation setting or otherwise. So that’s something that was really important, that we were able to help with.

When we started trying to figure out what is going on with identity theft as another example, where that became a big issue nationwide, still is, when we’re looking at how to protect personal information, we put together some resource bulletins and trading for justice partners about understanding digital footprints. What bad actors might be looking for, how they might want to steal your identity and profit from it.

So putting together guidance like that are all things that the Global Advisory Committee has worked very carefully on and tried to provide this kind of documentation for people working in the justice sector and it’s all available online and all of our meetings also are open to the public. So that’s something that some of your listener’s might be interested in.

Obviously, with lots of different information that’s out there, it can be mind numbing, trying to figure out what you’re looking for or what you might need and how it may help you. So one other tool that we created is something that goes by the acronym of GIST, it’s the Global Information Sharing Toolkit and it would allow someone, again, going to that same website and again, I’ll give you the full website again, www.it.ojp.gov/GIST, G-I-S-T.

And going there, anyone that’s listening could set up their own toolkit. You can go and peruse the various training materials, the reference documents, different resource bulletins that have been developed and you can create your own online toolkit of what would be most helpful for you and have it available to you whenever you need it.

So that’s another we’ve tried to make it easier for folks working in different justice domains, to be able to participate and use the materials that are available and hopefully, if they find them helpful, we’ll get some feedback or if there’s something else that they feel like it’s missing, then we can try to work on that as well.

Kate: That’s really helpful. And this is so much excellent information, we’ll make sure to have everything listed in the transcript, especially those websites. On the ImageSoft website, so anyone who’s listening, if you wanted to go back and find those websites, we’ll make sure that we have all of that listed there, so that you can go and use some of these tools and hopefully provide some additional feedback.

Thank you so much for sharing all of this with us today Kevin, this was, I think, really insightful and hopefully it’s a great resource and perhaps even starting point for a lot of organizations that want to become involved in this as well.

Kevin: Well, I certainly hope so and like I said at the beginning, I really appreciate the, I guess, the willingness of ImageSoft to reach out to a group like the Global Advisory Committee and give us a way to share some of this information with your listeners. I think I mentioned to you earlier, having been an ImageSoft customer for many years now, I’ve seen the value of the work that you do and I know that even in our own court, by using the OnBase software and working with your staff on our current e-filing project here in Michigan, by using those tools that you make available, it allows us to do a better job at a local level, providing information that needs to be shared with other local agencies, state agencies and federal agencies.

So it’s really been beneficial to have those kinds of tools to help support our mission for better information sharing. So I just wanted to mention that and thank you again for giving us an opportunity to talk a little bit about why Global matters, what we’re doing, how we’re trying to support our justice system partners and hopefully, in the end, providing safer communities for all of us to live in and thrive in.

Kate: Thank you much Kevin, that’s absolutely true. And thank you everyone for joining us today and if you haven’t already, be sure to subscribe to Paperless Productivity, where we’ll tackle some of the biggest paper based pain points facing organizations today.

We’ll see you next time.

Thanks again for joining us today for this episode of Paperless Productivity. This podcast is sponsored by Image Soft, the paperless process people, which you can learn more about at imagesoftinc.com, that’s Image Soft, I-N-C.com. Join us next time, where you’ll learn how to harness the power of technology, super charge efficiencies and accomplish your organization’s goals.

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