Connect South Dakota: A Justice Information Sharing Success Story

Tammy Woodhams, Senior Staff Associate,
National Criminal Justice Association (NCJA)

JRSA Forum. March 2013. Volume 31, Number 1.

Ross Uhrig, ConnectSD Project Manager, Sheriff Mike Milstead, Minnehaha Sheriff's Department, Bryan Gortmaker, Director of the South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation and the State Statistical Analysis Center, and Samatha Bosalavage, NCJA Intern, contributed to this article.

Justice information sharing is at the heart of everything we need to do to prevent terrorism, reduce crime, and improve the quality of justice in America. While many states are still challenged with turf issues, a lack of resources, and information sharing "silos," the Connect South Dakota (Connect SD) justice information sharing program is changing the way law enforcement personnel in South Dakota do business. As a result, its "citizens, officers, and inmates are safer," says Sheriff Mike Milstead, Minnehaha County Sheriff and Global Justice Information Sharing Initiative National Sheriffs' Association (NSA) representative. ConnectSD greatly enhances an investigator's ability to locate criminals and track suspect activity and behavior at the local level. In addition, by using national information-sharing standards, the program facilitates linking South Dakota to the critical National Data Exchange (N-DEx) project. The system can be used to create a data-sharing environment within any area, region, or state. It gives patrol officers, investigators, and intake officers equal access to critical information they need to better serve the public.

ConnectSD was developed to help both the large and small county sheriffs and law enforcement agencies throughout the state share information and track records in a comprehensive way. South Dakota covers 77,121 square miles, making it the 17th largest state, with a population of 825,000. South Dakota law enforcement services are provided by the State Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI), State Highway Patrol, 65 county sheriffs, and 75 city police departments.1

Each agency has different levels of capacity and faces its own challenges based on resources, jurisdictional geographic area, and population. Minnehaha County, the largest county in the state by population with 180,000 people, covers 810 square miles. The Minnehaha Sheriff's Department is staffed by 250 employees. Perkins County has a population of 3,000 people and covers 3,000 square miles. The Perkins County Sheriff's Department is staffed by Sheriff Kelly Serr and two deputies, and uses a records management system developed by Sheriff Serr using Microsoft software. "We wanted to give Sheriff Serr, and others like him, a one-stop shop for law enforcement either on the street or at their desk," said ConnectSD project manager Ross Uhrig.

ConnectSD eliminates the boundaries created by individual public safety software systems and shares data within the state, compiling:

Prior to implementation, South Dakota was challenged with many issues, including:

Phase one of the ConnectSD initiative addressed the following goals:

The last goal was considered the most important for the success of the project because it secured buy-in from local agencies. Bryan Gortmaker, the director of DCI and South Dakota's Statistical Analysis Center (SAC), said one feature that was appealing to officers in local jurisdictions was that each agency using ConnectSD retains control over what information to include in the shared database. "They get to share their valued information statewide, so it gains in value, but they also still maintain ownership over those records," he said. Sensitive data can be censored and flagged so they are not shared.

ConnectSD project manager Ross Uhrig added that another selling point at the local level was that the system uses Global Federated Identity and Privilege Management (GFIPM) technology for authenticating users, so officers do not need a separate login for the secure, web-based storehouse. "Using available standards and not trying to reinvent the wheel has been key to this software," he said. "Developing a system to ensure a secure deployment would have taken additional time and resources we did not have. By using these standards, we solved our deployment before development began. Law enforcement personnel do not need to remember an additional user name or password."

All data are transferred automatically, with no additional steps required by users. The system updates in real time based on intervals determined by each agency, keeping the database full of the most current Incident Arrest (IA) and Incarceration Booking (IB) data that conform to the national Information Exchange Package Documentation (IEPD) field structure. By adhering to the N-DEx, local agency vendors for IA and IB IEPDs have the ability to develop their interfaces without requiring any additional information or customization for South Dakota-specific items. This makes participation with ConnectSD and N-DEx either free or at least affordable for participating agencies. The use of Regional Information Sharing Systems (RISS) and RISSNET Single Sign On and user management also made an enormous impact on the scope of the project. ConnectSD was able to ensure a secure environment, use dual factor authentication, and access over 1,000 accounts created by South Dakota Law Enforcement Officers (LEOs) through RISSNET. As a result, DCI was able to start developing user access within four hours of being introduced to the RISS implementation of GFIPM.

Use of the national data-sharing standards according to the Global privacy development template also ensures the protection of every citizen's civil liberties, Sheriff Milstead explained. "South Dakota's program will be a 'best practice' and something that can be duplicated in other jurisdictions."

Another product of ConnectSD is the capability for it to serve as a Records Management System (RMS) for agencies that don't have an in-house system. This is the first goal for phase two for ConnectSD, with a second goal being submissions from other agencies, including the Department of Corrections and Parole. The hope is to eventually have real-time submission from the field to the Fusion Center.

Overcoming Challenges

Fortunately, South Dakota did not struggle with local buy-in as much as some would have anticipated. The greatest challenge faced was taking the standards and applying them to practical use. Zuercher Technologies, along with Training and Technical Assistance (TTA) providers (listed below), helped to implement standards in a way that met the goals of the project.

SAC Director Gortmaker, indicates the project was made possible through the initial acquisition of a 2010 Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) cross-boundary information sharing grant. DCI created a governance board to oversee the project. They also received training and technical assistance from several national TTA providers including Integrated Justice Information Systems (IJIS) Institute, National Governors' Association (NGA), National Information Exchange Model (NIEM), National Data Exchange (N-DEx), Regional Information Sharing Systems (RISS), Global Justice Information Sharing Information Sharing Initiative (Global), Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting (SAR) Initiative (NSI), and Institute for Intergovernmental Research (IIR).

During a recent webinar regarding ConnectSD, hosted by NCJA and the Justice Information Sharing Practitioners (JISP) Network, Patrick McCreary, Associate Deputy Director, U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance, shared three critical factors of success for justice information sharing initiatives: shared governance, use of open standards, and continuing support by having correct policy development implementation, specifically, privacy policies.

If you are working to advance justice information sharing and would like to access TTA to move forward in your state or jurisdiction, please contact Tammy Woodhams, Senior Staff Associate, at the National Criminal Justice Association (twoodhams@ncja.org).


1Nationwide, 74% of state/local law enforcement agencies have 24 or fewer officers (BJS, 2007); in South Dakota, approximately 85% of the local law enforcement agencies have 20 or fewer officers.