High-ranking deputies in the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office are taking issue with interim Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley launching a Valleywide crime database effort, calling it politically motivated and not giving credit where credit is due when one already is in place.
In fact, sheriff’s Cmdr. Dave Hendershott adamantly told the Tribune this week that about eight years ago the sheriff’s IT department and other officers began organizing a statewide crime database effort that features links to different areas of law enforcement and criminal fusion centers for investigative purposes.
On Tuesday, a meeting organized by Romley’s office included about 70 representatives of law-enforcement agencies who met to discuss a crime database that would feature links and information sharing and ensure compatible computer programs with other criminal fusion centers.
However, Hendershott said that about 50 law enforcement and health officials currently are linked in the sheriff’s office’s information sharing system, AZLINK, including the Arizona Department of Corrections, Department of Public Safety, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Department of Transportation’s Division of Motor Vehicles, local police departments and the FBI.
“People have been coming to the table for eight years, and the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office was part of our effort,” Hendershott said. “The county attorney needs to get up to date within his own agency. We just call it our ‘Google for cops.’ It’s a great system, and it’s already in place. This is something that didn’t take just six months, it took years worth of work.”
Cmdr. Bob Rampy, who has led the AZLINK effort and does a lot of the sheriff’s IT work, said, “I’m concerned he’s (Romley) is coming around and taking credit for what has already been done.” Rampy said he was not invited to Tuesday’s meeting. “AZLINK has really been widespread. He should’ve done a little more due diligence on data sharing efforts going on.”
The launching of AZLINK, also known as “justice with interface,” was made possible through the funding of a Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office jail tax bond issue about 10 years ago. The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, provided the impetus to organize such a tool, Rampy said. So far, there are about 265 informational links on it connected to law-enforcement agencies to investigate crime with the Phoenix, Mesa and Tucson police departments, with the sheriff’s office being the primary node, or area, of the system. The Scottsdale and Glendale police departments also are hooked into AZLINK, Rampy said.
AZLINK is required to follow crime information data statutes, and is reviewed by the Phoenix Urban Area Security Initiative.
The sheriff’s office also is working with counterparts in Los Angeles, San Diego and Orange counties in California to hook up with AZLINK, and will provide computer software free of charge to any agencies who want to link into the program, Rampy said. In addition for law-enforcement agencies being able to access Arizona driver’s license photographs from the motor vehicle division, the program also will be receiving photographs of illegal immigrants who have committed crimes and have been deported, Rampy said.
“Photographs are fundamental to the system,” Rampy said. “More and more, everything has been driven by data sharing. “Usually, it’s not the technology that does this, but it’s getting agencies together and sharing information. It’s not about politics, it’s about solving crimes.”
Leesa Morrison, special assistant to the county attorney, responded to word of Hendershott's reaction by saying Romley called the meeting to open a dialogue about the many systems available and how Maricopa County can benefit from enhanced information sharing.
"The unfounded allegation by the sheriff that Rick is trying to “take credit” for the existing data sharing system is a prime example of the reason that the chiefs from all law enforcement agencies - federal, state, local and tribal - were invited to the summit," Morrison said. "Information sharing is about communication and coordination, not about claiming credit for a specific database. Rick was aware of AZLINK before the summit, as well as numerous other informational databases."