Idea of Creating DWI Tracking System in Louisiana Revived

July 24, 2012

The idea of creating a statewide DWI tracking system in Louisiana is gaining steam again.

The Advocate reports that the 2004 death of an ambitious Louisiana project called the Integrated Criminal Justice Information System dashed hopes for a statewide DWI tracking system that was to be tied to it.

But interest in reviving that program may be growing.

The state Legislature recently requested that the mothballed Integrated Criminal Justice Information System policy board reconvene and report its progress to state lawmakers during the 2013 regular session.

Prosecutors, Mothers Against Drunk Driving Louisiana and others say a computer system that allows authorities to more easily verify previous DWI convictions and sentences across the state’s many court jurisdictions would be a strong weapon against repeat drunken-driving offenders.

However prosecutors and anti-drunken-driving activists say other factors — such as uneven enforcement of DWI sentencing laws by judges and the social acceptance of driving after drinking — play roles in the problem of repeat offenders.

Alcohol-related crashes claimed 291 lives in Louisiana in 2011.

Lt. Col. John LeBlanc, executive director of the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission, said alcohol-related fatal crashes in Louisiana dropped from 439 in 2007 to 272 in 2011 while fatalities from those crashes plunged from 487 in 2007 to 291 last year.

“That’s a real good trend,” he said, but added that Louisiana is still above the national average in alcohol-related fatalities.

The board of the Integrated Criminal Justice Information System, chaired by Louisiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Catherine “Kitty” Kimball, is scheduled to gather Aug. 7.

The board last met in 2004, when it awarded Baton Rouge technology company Thinkstream a $1.5 million contract — despite dissenting votes from Kimball and three other board members — to create a network linking the databases of some Louisiana criminal justice agencies.

But two months later, after a losing bidder’s appeal, then-Commissioner of Administration Jerry Luke LeBlanc overturned the decision, ruling the board violated its own rules in awarding the contract to Thinkstream.

The network would have enabled the agencies to access each other’s databases for information such as criminal histories, arrest warrants, fingerprints and mug shots, and make the information available to laptop computers in squad cars. The ICJIS board planned to eventually award a $10 million contract to hook up hundreds of law enforcement agencies across the state.

After the problems arose, the board surrendered the $1.5 million federal grant and scrapped the project because the grant was due to expire in February 2005, which did not give the panel enough time to re-evaluate the proposals, pick a winner and spend the money.

The ICJIS board has essentially remained dormant until now.

“We’re frustrated that we don’t have one central database,” East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III said.

In terms of DWI cases, Moore said, a statewide tracking system would reduce the potential for someone to slip through the cracks and be charged as a first-offender, for example, when that person could have been charged as a second-offender.

More accurate information on the front end allows prosecutors to make informed charging decisions, which in turn affects judges’ sentencing decisions, he said.

“The ultimate solution is to have an integrated system” for all crimes, Louisiana District Attorneys Association Executive Director Pete Adams said, adding that such a system could be in place in three to four years.

“I would hope even shorter than that,” Kimball said. “I’m just curious about the financing. I know they had money for it before.”

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