Pacific Northwest Computerizes Crime Fighting

June 11, 1998

RICHLAND, Wash. -- Computer scientists at the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory are updating Washington state crime databases to help police share information on unsolved cases and track criminals on parole.

Pacific Northwest has a contract with the state Attorney General's Office to revise its current investigative database called HITS, or Homicide Investigative Tracking System, and to modify a database for parole supervision. The state Legislature allocated about $850,000 to the Attorney General's Office to facilitate the program with the Washington State Patrol, the Department of Corrections and Northwest law enforcement agencies.

The systems are expected to be tested this summer and delivered to the Attorney General's Office by September.

These systems will arm law enforcement agencies with one of the most important crime-fighting tools available -- information. Through these databases, officers can retrieve shared information on offenders previously inaccessible and do so within minutes rather than days or weeks.

"Our biggest objective is to make a tool for law enforcement they don't currently have," said Bob LaMoria, the state Attorney General's program manager for HITS. "We'd like to make it available for anyone in the law enforcement community who would like to use it."

"It allows greater integration of information," said Steve Shoemaker, Pacific Northwest computer scientist. "It really is meant to bring law enforcement together when people commit crimes across police jurisdictions."

Ten years ago, the state designed HITS to better track serial crimes, such as murder and rape. Police officers provided information on these crimes and accessed data on other unsolved crimes from the Attorney General's Office to identify similarities among cases.

Pacific Northwest's computer scientists will transfer HITS to a Microsoft compatible database. They also will enhance the program's capabilities to accept future data, such as fingerprints and photographs.

A keener eye on parolees

The lab's computer scientists also will modify a database of information on people supervised by the state Department of Corrections. This modified database will be called SMART (Supervision Management and Recidivist Tracking), named after a project the Redmond, Wash., Police Department implemented in 1992.

With cooperation of local corrections officers, Redmond police started tracking parolees with whom they came into contact during traffic stops or other non-arrest situations by writing field interview reports. Those hard copy field reports were passed on to corrections officers, who would determine if the parolee had violated a condition of supervision, such as curfew, at the time of the police contact.

Those reports will be computerized and incorporated into a database with the expertise of Pacific Northwest computer scientists. Police officers could send field reports electronically to the system, or they could access a secure Internet web site to fill out field reports. Washington State Patrol would oversee the input and output of data through the system.

Then local law enforcement and the Department of Corrections would be able to access the information quickly and easily by computer.

Police officers would have a better understanding of whom in their community is on parole. LaMoria expects that judges and county prosecutors also would be interested in accessing the databases for case background.

Watched pot syndrome

These databases will allow for increased monitoring of parole violations by criminals who have a high rate of recidivism, or repeated criminal activity. Parolees will have greater incentives to comply with conditions of their release if corrections officers could better track violations.

"It's like a watched pot doesn't boil," LaMoria said. "If parolees are being supervised and made to comply, there's a lot better chance to turn them around. It also helps reduce crime."

Pacific Northwest also will incorporate the field report data into HITS to allow police to track the whereabouts of people on parole and factor that information into ongoing investigations.

"If they move from place to place, you can see if the crimes followed them," Shoemaker said. "We build a historical record of time and events."

"The information in these systems is not for prosecution," he said. "It just gets you closer to apprehending people.

The Attorney General's Office will test the computer systems with three or four police departments of varying size around the state. Then additional law enforcement agencies in the state could be using the systems soon after.

Additionally, the database systems could be made available to other states that have shown interest in improving oversight of parolees and in supplementing traditional investigative methods.

Pacific Northwest is one of DOE's nine multiprogram national laboratories and conducts research in the fields of environment, energy, health sciences and national security. Battelle, based in Columbus, Ohio, has operated Pacific Northwest for DOE since 1965.

DOE/Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

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