SMITHFIELD, N.C. — The state launched a pilot program in Johnston County Wednesday that compiles information from law enforcement and the courts into one Web-based system.
The system, called NCAWARE (North Carolina Arrest Warrant Repository), is expected to launch later this year in Lee and Harnett counties and to go statewide by 2010.
Currently, there is a delay between the time a warrant is issued for someone's arrest and when law enforcement officers across the state can find out about it.
"We know that people are falling through the cracks under the old system," Clayton Police Chief Glen Allen said Wednesday.
"Maybe not long-term falling through, but we were missing people – especially where we would stop and issue a citation and release them and not know another agency was holding an arrest warrant on that individual."
NCAWARE will give police and the courts real-time information and photos.
That means an officer making a traffic stop can immediately check to see if that person has any outstanding warrants or criminal summonses.
Magistrates will have background available to help them better set jail bonds.
Already, it's helped one Johnston County law enforcement officer make an arrest.
"This is the first time that we've had a system that involves both law enforcement and courts together in one unified system," said Gregg Stahl, a senior deputy director with the state Administrative Office of the Courts.
The need for such coordinated programs has been highlighted by recent high-profile crimes, including the Jan. 18 shooting death of Duke University graduate student Abhijit Mahato and the March 5 homicide of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill senior Eve Marie Carson.
A teenage suspect in both homicides, Laurence Alvin Lovette Jr., was on probation for breaking-and-entering and larceny convictions two days before Mahato's death and was arrested twice on burglary and theft charges before Carson's death.
Another suspect in Carson's death, Demario James Atwater, was on probation when he was convicted of other crimes. He had been overlooked by the probation system and his case was never reviewed, according to an internal review of his case by the Division of Community Corrections, which runs the probation system.
Probation officials say part of the problem is a lack of information-sharing between the courts and the law enforcement agencies.
The beta, or test, version of NCAWARE does not yet include probation information, but that is expected to be included in a future release of the application.
Gov. Mike Easley has demanded funding, and lawmakers, such as Sen. Floyd McKissick, D-Durham, where Lovette and Atwater were on probation, saying funding is a priority.
"I think the question becomes, 'What is required, in terms of funding, to get the technology in place to cure this problem?'" McKissick said.
State officials don't know the cost. They say the $13.5 million for the pilot program in Johnston County will serve as an example.
Some elected officials say they've been waiting for years for the program, which will allow law enforcement officers to share information quickly in a single computer system.
Stahl said funding and manpower kept it from launching sooner.
"They started from scratch," he said. "It's not something that they could've gone to the store and bought."