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Gang Data Helps Close Cases

A Texas police department developed an information system that helps put gangsters behind bars.

by / November 30, 1995

PROBLEM/SITUATION: The Dallas/Fort Worth area police needed a tool to track gang activities.
SOLUTION: The Keller Police Department developed a gang intelligence system that can be shared by police agencies throughout Texas.
VENDORS: Lotus Development Corp.
USER CONTACT: Keller Police Dept., 817/431-1515.


By Justine Kavanaugh
Staff Writer

There aren't many cities across the country unaffected by gangs and their often violent behavior. Open drug dealing and drive-by shootings are daily life on some neighborhood streets, and the public is increasingly outraged by horrors like the killing of a four-year-old girl in Los Angeles whose father turned down an alley and unwittingly drove the family car into a barrage of gang gunfire.

The escalating presence of street gangs and related crime prompted the Keller, Texas, Police Department to search for a tool that could help them deal with the problem. Officers in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex town of 17,500 are now able to piece together information on gangs and gang members using a new computer system. By using this information and sharing it with other jurisdictions, Keller hopes it will eventually make a difference not only in their neighborhoods, but throughout Texas.

Sgt. Cory Lance of the Keller Police Department, who has a background in electronics and computers, began examining database software packages last year that could possibly address his department's needs. "Previously, gang intelligence in Texas was housed in the headquarters of four different cities, with no central information resource," he explained. "In order to find information, officers frequently had to make numerous calls to other cities looking for any current intelligence they may have recently acquired about individuals, vehicles, or gang activities. Officers also had no way to access information in the field if they needed it."

What Lance wanted was a system that could be used to collect information in a database, and then facilitate the exchange of that information between officers, agencies and departments. What he eventually constructed is a system comprised of Lotus SmartSuite and Lotus Notes. According to Lance, the system is helping to solve more crimes and track areas of increased gang activity.

The new system works by allowing officers to enter and access key pieces of data such as gang name, vehicle, an individual's legal name, weapon, suspect associates, or incident date. The system is designed so that even if an officer has a very small piece of information to work with, like the partial license plate number of a car belonging to a person known to associate with a gang member, the systems' cross-referencing function connects that information to more information in the database about the gang or gang member, his activities, addresses, descriptions and photos. Officers can even access the database in their patrol cars utilizing laptops.

In conjunction with this database, Keller implemented a target offender database and a case tracking database. Since implementation, the case closure rate at Keller has increased from 30 percent to nearly 60 percent. Additionally, statistics show a 25 percent to 30 percent drop in more serious offenses.

"This system has benefitted us in multiple cases by helping us apprehend people and by linking people to other offenses," said Sgt. Juren of the Northeast Street Crimes Unit. "It makes the availability of gang information and the sharing of that information much easier."

Keller's gang intelligence system is linked to Freelance Graphics -- Lotus' graphics presentation software -- which allows photos to be stored on the system and linked with other information about a suspect. Keller is using this function to create "Be On the Lookout" (BOLO) bulletins. Officers can use the Notes database to locate information about a suspect and then import both photos and text into a Freelance Graphics document, generating a BOLO in minutes. The BOLOs can then be passed out to other officers or posted in a common area. This activity used to require hours of research, photo line-ups and photocopying.

Another advantage of the system is that it makes it easier for officers in Texas to work with other states to track down wanted gang members. "Some gang members are very mobile," said Juren. "Using this system, if someone from California calls and is looking for someone who committed a crime there, we can put the information they give us into our system and see if it matches any information on suspects in our area."

But the system has not been without its problems. Lance said one roadblock they ran into revolved around equipment. "A lot of police agencies have old computer equipment, so we've had to fight a few battles on getting some hardware upgraded, and getting money to buy hardware is always a problem as well."

Lance said they also ran into a few stumbling blocks concerning what types of information can be distributed over a computer system. "With adults, it's not a problem," he said. "But with juveniles, there's a lot of laws concerning what information you can keep and what information can be distributed between agencies."

So far, Lance said acceptance of and interest in the system have both been very positive. "We have 25 agencies in the area that are using it and a lot of agencies in the process of getting the data converted over," he said. "This started out at the local level, but it's expanding out rapidly -- we have no idea how many agencies will be involved in total. Eventually, I would like to see it go statewide. Once everyone is online, we will be able to share an enormous amount of information."

The gang intelligence system has multi -platform capabilities, allowing it to run on Windows, OS/2, UNIX, Windows NT and Macintosh, and making it easy to share with other departments no matter what type of equipment they are currently using.

"I haven't seen another database with the information this one has," said Juren. "Others are difficult to use, and the officer usually still has to contend with a lot of red tape. This one has more information, and it's all accessible."

According to Lance, the system's biggest advantage is its remote access abilities. "You can take a laptop and cellular phone and still be able to access the information from anywhere," he said. "Officers have to be able to get the information they need when they are out there on the street, not hours later when a possible suspect is miles away."

The Keller Police Department is not relaxing after recent success. The department is working on a voice recognition feature using PhoneNote that will enable an officer to call in and access data by phone through text-to-speech conversion technology. Additionally, they are planning for the seamless integration of Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheets and its mapping features, which will allow police to plot gang and individual activities geographically. By observing areas of increased activities, officers will be able to increase their presence in an area, hopefully stopping an incident before it occurs.


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