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Remarks of Laurie Robinson, Assistant Attorney General
Office of Justice Programs

Regional Information Sharing Systems
Policy Board Summit

Tuesday, March 1, 2011
Washington, DC

     Thank you, Jim. I'm so pleased to be here. First of all, I want to thank Patty [Borrelli] and Jerry [Lynch] for inviting me to speak here today - and for their superb leadership of RISS. I know RISS has been so very well served by their guidance and their vision. Let me also single out Jim and his staff - in particular, Pat McCreary and David Lewis - for their management of BJA's RISS program. I have to tell you that they've been such steadfast advocates of RISS and real champions of the great work being done at the RISS Centers.

     It's wonderful to be back before this audience after all these years. I have very fond memories of working with the RISS policy boards and visiting RISS centers when I was Assistant Attorney General at the Department of Justice in the 1990s. I remember the strong partnerships we developed and the great work RISS was doing then to create a seamless information sharing capability.

     So I feel like we have a shared history.

     That was, of course, back before 9/11 when information sharing wasn't the hot topic it is today. The RISS network was already building the structure for an effective system. In fact, as you know, RISSNET had already been conceived and born before the terrorist attacks took place.

     I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that our nation's current capacity for sharing intelligence and coordinating efforts across jurisdictions owes a huge debt to the work that RISS began some 30 years ago and has been doing ever since. And I couldn't be more proud that OJP has provided RISS more than $387 million over the last decade, and several million in discretionary funding beyond what Congress specifically appropriated.

     I was telling Jim the other day that RISS really gave me my formative education in information sharing. Thanks to RISS, I feel like I've grown up with law enforcement. I've seen policing become increasingly sophisticated because it relies so much more now on coordination, communication, and analysis - the very hallmark of what RISS represents. The world of public safety is a very different place than it was when I was at OJP in the 90s, and much of that has to do with the tremendous progress we've made in information sharing - thanks to your leadership.

     I think it's important that you be recognized for your leadership and your vision. You - the RISS staff, local law enforcement, and RISS Policy Board members in this room - have been the ones laboring in the field to make sure law enforcement has the tools it needs and the wherewithal to meet the challenges of policing in the 21st century. You provide an information sharing backbone and infrastructure for more than 8,700 agencies - and I'd like to take a few minutes to highlight those achievements that I find truly groundbreaking.

     I already mentioned RISSNET, but I think it's important to point out how that network's been so central to expanding our nation's information sharing capacity. More than 95 state, regional, and federal systems are connected or working on connections to RISSNET. This now includes 38 state law enforcement agencies, 31 HIDTA systems, and 22 federal and other systems like the National Drug Intelligence Center and the National White Collar Crime Center.

     Within RISSNET, you've established systems that serve as invaluable resources to your members. For example, I'm impressed that RISS criminal intelligence databases now contain more than 3.4 million records.

     And RISSGang has made tremendous strides in helping identify gang members in day-to-day investigatory situations. The RISSGang database was also used as one of the models in developing the new gang information exchange package documentation. This will provide a national, federated search tool for gang information - including correctional gang data - from federal, state, and local agencies, and it's intended to make it easier for agencies to enter information into the NCIC Violent Gang and Terrorist Offender File.

     Programs like RISSLeads, which allows member agencies to post information about particular cases, and RISSLive, which provides a real-time communications capability, are playing a crucial role in enhancing peer-to-peer communication to help solve crimes.

     Another significant milestone is RISSafe, which not only improves connectivity, but helps ensure officer safety. Whenever a raid or surveillance activity or some other law enforcement event is planned, RISSafe identifies and alerts agencies that may be affected. This deconfliction system helps prevent confusion among agencies and limits the risks that officers face on a day-to-day basis.

     Jim told me about a recent example: A DEA agent called in an "Under Cover Buy-Walk Drug Deal" for posting in RISSafe. The operation was scheduled for the following day. A sheriff's deputy had also made a similar call for the same date and time. Neither officer was aware of the parallel investigations - until they were notified by RISSafe.

     The use of RISSafe here prevented a potentially dangerous mix-up.

     I was also very thrilled to see that RISS played a critical role in the investigation of the shootings in Tucson. As you probably know, the Rocky Mountain Information Network worked with the FBI that day to enhance photographic images showing a second person of interest in that case. On a very rapid turnaround basis, staff ran a facial recognition search against photos from the Arizona driver license files and were able to quickly clear that person.

     This is solid proof that information sharing barriers among federal, state, and local agencies are being broken down by RISS.

     But I find that some of the most important RISS assets are those in addition to these network services - investigative and intelligence analysis support, equipment sharing, confidential loans to support investigations, informational materials, and training and technical assistance.

     But RISS doesn't just put up process numbers. It also produces results. Over the last three years alone, cases in which RISS services were used resulted in almost 15,000 arrests and more than $110 million in seizures. That's an amazing record, and you're continuing to move ahead. I know today you're launching the new RISS public Website, a new RISSNET Portal, and the RISS Officer Safety Website. That's a lot for one day, and it's so gratifying to see this incredible progress.

     RISS has been in the vanguard of change and in responding to new challenges - and those challenges continue to multiply. The challenges we face together in this day and age are among the most difficult we've ever had to face. Among the most difficult are those rooted in a struggling economy.

     We hear almost every day about the impact of tight budgets on law enforcement agencies. We hear about pay cuts, hiring freezes, and lay-offs, sometimes - as in Newark, Camden, and Oakland - resulting in the loss of sizeable portions of their forces. These stories all sound an ominous note for public safety generally.

     And the budgetary challenges that you've been facing on the state and local levels are being felt now at the federal level, as well. As you well know, debates are raging in Congress today about federal funding for the current year - FY 2011 - and the President's budget request for FY 2012 reflects some painful decisions. As you already know, and as I'm unhappy to report, among the programs that saw reductions in the request is RISS.

     I want to make it clear, first of all, that this reduction does not reflect a judgment or assessment on our part about RISS's effectiveness. We believe strongly that RISS has a critical mission that its centers have fulfilled dutifully and successfully. I don't want there to be any misunderstandings about that. OJP and I - and Jim Burch and his team - are fully behind the mission of the RISS program.

     At the same time, OMB and the Department of Justice had to make difficult decisions about funding in this time of fiscal responsibility and tighter budgets. This wasn't easy and many programs were cut back or zeroed out in these tough times.

     Of course, another big part of our responsibility is to work with you to find ways to overcome this challenge. This is also not easy, but neither is it unrealistic. I think it's incumbent on all of us to begin exploring what the options are for continuing RISS services. The continuity of RISS is so essential that we must take this step now.

     I certainly don't have all the answers, nor does Jim, but the history of our partnership with RISS is one of facing challenges and coming out ahead. This is a difficult time - there's no question - but I see no reason why, between us, we can't find solutions that will help RISS continue to move forward.

     RISS has been helping law enforcement meet the dual challenges of fighting crime and protecting the homeland, and I believe it will continue to do so. RISS will remain a critical component of our National Information Sharing Strategy - no other resource like RISS exists to connect state and local intelligence with federal information resources. As the Attorney General talks about state and local law enforcement being on the front lines of preventing terrorism and reducing crime, we know that RISS is right there with them.

     I pledge - and I know I speak for Jim, as well - that we will use the resources and the leverage we have at OJP to keep RISS at the center of our nation's information sharing efforts. So I look forward to continuing our work together and to making RISS even stronger.

     Thank you so much for having me here today, and Jim and I will now be happy to take your questions.


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