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Data Helps Lehigh County, Pa., Solve Mass Shooting

For investigators in Lehigh County, a database was instrumental in determining that last month’s mass shooting incident outside an Allentown, Pa., nightclub was linked to a feud between rival gangs.

(TNS) — Hours after three gunmen opened fire on a crowd of people leaving the Deja Vu nightclub on Hamilton Street in Allentown, Pa., wounding 10 last month, Lehigh County, Pa., District Attorney Jim Martin announced that the attack was more than likely gang-related.

Martin was able to deduce the likely gang ties, he said Wednesday, because the “instantaneous results” of a database on gangs created through the county’s Regional Intelligence and Investigation Center that has helped detectives in many gang-related cases.

That database was instrumental, Martin said, in determining that last month’s shooting outside the Allentown nightclub was linked to a feud between rival gangs.

“We have some very good ideas in terms of who the participants in that were, but because it is an ongoing investigation, we are not going to disclose that here, obviously,” he said.

To help continue that kind of work in the investigation of transnational gangs, Martin, along with U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, announced at a news conference Wednesday a $1.1 million federal grant as part of a partnership between the RIIC and the Washington field office for Homeland Security Investigations.

Martin said the grant will be used to continue the development and expansion of the RIIC’s gang intelligence system.

“Having the ability through the RIIC to track and understand the inter-intra dynamics of gangs and to break apart these criminal networks in our region has helped us on a local level and is scalable for a regional, state or national level,” Martin said. “I am extremely pleased that we in Lehigh County are able to provide this assistance to HSI and, of course, very appreciative of the grant funding which will permit us to build out this system to its full potential.

"This will enhance public safety here in the Lehigh Valley and wherever it is implemented and operational.”

The connection between the two agencies began in 2016 with a partnership between the RIIC? a searchable database of more than 6 million police incident reports — and the Philadelphia field office for Homeland Security Investigations.

HSI’s Philadelphia office assigned investigators and analysts to the RIIC to assist local law enforcement with gang-related cases and human trafficking investigations. That led to the development of the gang intelligence system in 2017 by Julia Kocis, director of the RIIC, and Computer Aid Inc., a Lehigh County technology company.

The gang intelligence system, Martin said, “was built around graph and social network theory to help show the complex social interactions and personal relationships that span race, age, geography and many other dimensions.”

It also makes it easier for investigators to identify gang members, their associates and rivals, and find other important data.

The project continued after Joseph M. Day, the chief intelligence officer of HSI’s Philadelphia office, was promoted to chief intelligence officer for HSI’s office in the Washington, D.C., and Virginia region.

Like Philadelphia, Washington and Virginia have experienced similar troubles with transnational gangs linked to violent crimes, illegal firearms and drug and human trafficking, Martin said.

"They have pretty much the same gang influences as we have,” Martin said. However, he noted that the biggest gang threat in the Washington and Virginia area, which isn’t seen often in Lehigh County, is the deadly MS-13, or Mara Salvatrucha.

“We might have one or two identified here, but there is no concentration here because they tend to gravitate to where there is a large El Salvadoran population," he said.

For the past year, the RIIC has worked with Homeland Security Investigations in Washington to develop a pilot program there, leading to the grant, which will be used for system expansion and enhancements to cover a wider geographical area, Martin said.

The enhancements will include incorporating advanced image and data analytics to help automatically generate investigative leads across locations and cases. It also includes migrating the gang intelligence system into the cloud, so investigators and analysts in different locations can access the system, share data and generate leads for gang and human trafficking investigations, Martin said.

Toomey congratulated Martin and the RIIC for their efforts in expanding their crime-fighting tools and gang intelligence system.

“This is a really sophisticated collaborative effort that is going to help Lehigh County law enforcement fight one of the most dangerous aspects of the criminal threat that we face, which is, of course, these gangs that we read about on a far too regular basis,” Toomey said.

©2019 The Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.