Software helps agencies link crime-fighting databases
Until recently, the Plano (Texas) Police Department had always used a paper-based process to maintain data, and, with 254 sworn officers and a total staff of 375, it was difficult to share and search for information.
Officers conducting investigations could spend an inordinate amount of time calling other officers – often without success. With the paper-based filing system, it was difficult to connect information from two different investigations or between two different investigative units.
Randy Rogers, a former police officer and owner of Technology Helps, a division of Irving, Texas-based Groupware Concepts, approached the city with a proposed solution – using Lotus Notes to enhance the department’s efficiency. In 1995, with the department’s blessing, Rogers began developing a Regional Area Intelligence Network (RAIN), a secure network tying state agencies together. Tracking gangs, a growing problem in Dallas-Forth Worth and surrounding communities, was the first objective.
Even with the development of the network, there was a problem: The department’s Gang Investigative Unit did not own any personal computers. The first PC was donated to the unit that year, and money was subsequently authorized for PC purchases in the months following the donation. Today, the department has about 90 networked Gateway Pentium PCs running the software program.
The gang activity database tracks details about area gang members, including biographical information (real name, street name, physical description), photographs and information on the member’s methods and areas of operation, previous incidents, vehicles and weapons. Unlike traditional database applications,the department’s software enables users to enter unlimited narratives, which could prove critical to an investigation.
Within months of installing the database, officers were able to identify suspects in several drive-by shootings and burglaries. The database is now installed in 30 North Texas cities, providing users with integrated means to cross-check files and data. Plano’s police department is networked with four other public safety agencies and is working to increase that number.
Users of the new system can search specific terms, such as a gang member’s street name, and all related data is retrieved from multiple databases. Users can view the information in a variety of formats (street name, gang, vehicle types).
Tracking of statistical data – e.g., how many gang-related incidents occurred during a certain time period, the ethnic backgrounds of the members involved and the types of incidents that occurred – also is possible. Applications exist for sex crimes, case tracking, informants, police applicants, narcotics, stolen vehicles, robberies and homicides.
The department also has developed a workflow application for internal complaints. Previously, a complainant would complete a form and file it with Internal Affairs. Chief Bruce Glasscock and others would discuss the complaint in a meeting to decide whether Internal Affairs should take action on it.
Now, Internal Affairs completes an electronic form and e-mails it to the chief for him to read. “It reduces the time spent in meetings and provides a better form of documentation,” Glasscock says.
Further, quarterly reports that used to take two days to generate now take 15 minutes, says Administrative Sergeant Frank McElligott. McElligott says a request from the chief for information used to mean a long and tedious search through three-ring binders, but now it takes just a few seconds.