A gunshot. Blood. The clatter as a metal rack of magazines tumbles to the floor, tipped over by the weight of a night clerk slumping to the cold linoleum.

There is a witness from across the street who will call 911. The clerk will survive -- his body, if not his psyche, is repairable.

The witness' view was brief. He only got a glimpse as they ran across the well-lit parking lot to their waiting car, but he picked up a few particulars: "They looked like gang-bangers. There were two of them, both male, big guys, about six feet. One had a tattoo on his upper arm. I noticed it because it was huge; it looked like a dragon. They squealed their tires when they left; it was a silver BMW. Nice car. Gold rims. I only saw part of the plate number; there was a 3 and a G -- the first two spots on the plate."

The victim gives up another piece of the puzzle before he is raced away by the paramedics: "The shooter had the tattoo and he stutters."

Was it enough? Sometimes yes. In the past, days could go by before the description turned something up, and by then the suspects could be in hiding or on their way to another town. Three days later, the witness could maybe pick out the suspects' mug shots, and maybe the cops would find them before they struck again.

Maybe. Maybe not.

But starting now, at least in California, the maybes will decrease.

Last fall, the State of California Dept. of Justice (DOJ) began installing CALGANG (Outside of California, the software is called GangNet) -- a cutting-edge, intranet-linked software package developed by Orion Scientific Systems Inc. The system is now connected with a master node in the Dept. of Justice's Sacramento office and linked to nine other sites throughout the state. It is, essentially, a statewide intranet -- a gang-related clearinghouse for information, which is often the most powerful tool a law enforcement officer can have. Orion Scientific, and interested agencies across the country, hope the information link-up will soon cross state lines, reaching deep into the thousands of communities now under siege by gang-related crime.

"We have been working on getting a statewide system for tracking gang affiliations and information for about three and a half years, but it wasn't until a little over a year ago that the technology for open systems architecture made CALGANG possible," said Don Mace, attorney general investigator in charge with DOJ. Mace is the project administrator for CALGANG and has worked with Orion in developing a conversion program to transfer information from CALGANG's predecessor, the GREAT system, into the new database. "This system makes it easier and cheaper than we ever imagined possible. It is all point-and-click and pull-down menus; I can go through an entire demonstration of the system and maybe type two keys.

"Almost as important is the cost savings it allows. I can put 80 end-users on it for what it cost me to put up one under the GREAT system," Mace continued, "and the entire implementation has only cost $800,000. If we had went with a large-scale hardware provider to develop a custom system, the price tag would have been closer to $2.5 million. And it's simple to use; all the officer requires to access the system is a Netscape browser."

In The Field

GangNet is a specific application that utilizes a relational database to access and categorize information that is regularly collected on gang members, their crimes and their affiliations. It provides a way for officers to utilize that information by allowing them to track, analyze and retrieve data collected about gangs, individual gang members, the places they hang out or live, known associates and even the cars they