By Captain Ed Posey, District 1 Commander, Gainesville, Florida, Police Department
few years ago, a deputy was called to the podium during a CompStatlike presentation at a sheriff’s department in Florida. While at the podium, the deputy was asked by the sheriff, “How many gang members live in your assigned area?” The deputy stated that he did not know. The sheriff then asked the deputy if he could provide the names of a few of the gang members in the area to which he was assigned, and again the deputy stated he could not. Frustrated, the sheriff asked the deputy if he could name a single gang member in the area—and the deputy again reluctantly stated he could not. The sheriff continued by asking the deputy, “Can you tell me how you would find out that information if you needed it?” The deputy explained that the department’s crime analysts printed a very large guide every four months with pictures and information about the gang members in the county. The deputy also admitted that he did not have a copy of this information available to him while on patrol. At that point, the sheriff began to rant about how much time, effort, and money the department was spending on creating, publishing, and distributing this information, and yet department members were not using the information and in fact had no idea of the identities of any of the members of local gangs.
Thanks to improving technology, the Gainesville, Florida, Police Department (GPD) has found a way to prevent conversations like the one described here from taking place at its meetings. By combining the efforts of sworn officers and the capabilities of the information technology (IT) staff, the GPD is now using its computeraided dispatch (CAD) and records management system (RMS) to deliver accurate and timely information on gang activity directly to patrol officers, who need it to maximize their effectiveness when dealing with these known offenders.
As with gang activity, law enforcement agencies collect and store information on known sex offenders. For this reason, the GPD uses this technology in the same manner when dealing with this latter group of offenders. The GPD can also use the system it has developed to identify and monitor gang members as well as other persons of interest.
According to the GPD RMS, as of February 20, 2008, seven sexual predators and 82 sex offenders live within the Gainesville city limits. Surrounding the city of Gainesville is Alachua County, which has reported 52 sexual predators and 543 sex offenders residing in the county. (Definitions of sexual predators and sex offenders are per Florida law; definitions may vary from state to state.) As part of normal law enforcement duties, officers need to know when they are dealing with these offenders.
Many departments use printed flyers, lists, or newspaper-sized publications with names of and information about sex offenders to inform their personnel. Officers read the flyers and remember the information in them for a short period of time. Lists are (sometimes) read, but most often, they are tucked away in a folder in the back seats of patrol vehicles, where they remain until an officer specifically decides to check the list to see if a particular person is on it. Unfortunately, this method of dealing with offenders requires the officer to have a hunch or suspicion before even thinking about checking a list.
Newspaper-sized publications provide a significant amount of information about offenders, but the volume of information makes the information almost useless; it is too much to memorize or to search quickly. In addition, the unfortunate reality is that the information on flyers, lists, and newspaper-sized publications becomes out of date as soon as the ink is dry, and once distributed, these media cannot be re-collected for updates. Flyers and bulletins are useful for informing department personnel and (in some cases) citizens when a new offender moves into the area. However, that knowledge soon fades unless it is supported by a proper system for notifications and queries. One lesson that all agencies quickly learn is that handing out large lists, even with pictures and supplemental information, is of relatively little benefit. There has to be a better way.
Some departments develop stand-alone computer systems to track sex offenders. Usually an individual detective (or a small group of detectives, in larger agencies) or an analyst gathers information about sex offenders and stores the information in a spreadsheet or database. This information is readily available to detectives while they are in the office, but it is not available where it is often needed—on the street. When beat officers encounter a sex offender, they need to know it; the same goes for contact with gang members. With some help from IT staff members, law enforcement agencies can do a better job of delivering timely information to their personnel.
Managing Offender Data with an RMS
The best way for agencies to ensure easy access to offender information is to store it directly in their RMSs, not in a separate database. It is no secret that all CAD systems and RMSs store and provide information differently; however, regardless of brand, they should all have a way to do the following things:
- Identify a person as a sex offender
- Record personal information about offenders, including photographs
- Maintain a history of every contact offenders have with the agency
- Allow an alert or a flag to be placed on the name record of offenders to notify appropriate agency personnel whenever a particular offender’s name is searched in the CAD system, RMS, or mobile computer terminal program
Offender information can be entered and updated by the assigned detective, an analyst, or records personnel, but by using the RMS to track sex offenders, agencies can be assured that the most up-to-date information will be available to all patrol officers.
Now, some readers may be saying to themselves, “I think he means the CAD system, not the RMS.” Agencies should bear in mind that every system works slightly differently, and the line between an RMS database and a CAD database is sometimes blurred. Alerts can be entered in either system, but the system should query the local database that holds the alert information and report back any alerts that are entered whenever a name query is performed by a dispatcher, an officer in the field, or any other agency personnel.
Similarly, when an officer or dispatcher conducts a search using a vehicle license plate, the system should automatically search for the name of the vehicle’s registered owner as well. The system should then notify the querying officer or dispatcher if the registered owner has been flagged as a sex offender. When this local search is performed, a query should be made to other local, state, or national databases as well.
Beyond the ability of CAD systems and RMSs to flag name records and notify officers of these alerts, the GPD believes that it is very important to have patrol officers know the answers to the following questions:
- How many sex offenders/predators live in an officer’s assigned area?
- Who are they?
- Where do they live?
If an incident involving a child occurs in any part of the city, responding officers must have access to this information to see what offenders live near the incident and to permit them to narrow down candidate offenders by age, race, sex, and other factors. For instance, the system must be able to find a white male over the age of 35, living in a particular area of the city, without officers having to paw through records manually. This capability lets patrol officers know where they might begin to look for a missing child.
An additional benefit to such a system regards agency compliance with local and state laws. Florida law requires that the addresses of all sex offenders be verified every 90 days, and sexual predators must have their addresses verified every 30 days. (Other states’ rules may vary.) Like most departments, the GPD initially responded to this law by assigning one detective to the task of identifying and monitoring offenders and predators. However, this task soon became overwhelming;it was impossible for one person to keep up with the required address verifications. GPD leadership decided to place the responsibility for conducting the address verifications on patrol officers in each zone where offenders or predators resided. Every month, zone sergeants are responsible for ensuring that all address verifications are up to date for the area to which they are assigned.
GPD Sex Offender Web Page
The GPD did not want to create a separate database to store sex offender data, so with the help of the IT staff, a way was devised to extract the needed information from the RMS and present it in a way that patrol officers could use where they need it most: outside the station, in their assigned zones.
Chad Griffin, a GPD programmer, has created an internal Web site where patrol sergeants, corporals, and officers can view live data from the RMS pertaining to sex offenders in their zone; they are provided a read-only view of the offender data that are currently stored in the GPD RMS databases. This Web page is secure, available only to GPD field personnel via an encrypted virtual private network; the information presented to department members comes directly from the SQL database used by the GPD RMS. (A similar but separate page is available to query for gang members.)
The beauty of the GPD system is that it cost only a couple of days of script writing. The department did not have to pay for any changes to the RMS. All that is required to build a system like this one is a Field Interview module, an alert notification system, and a master names database—all of which are found in most systems. Agencies with older or more basic systems that do not have these features should consider making sure that any potential upgrade would include them.
Using the GPD’s sex offender Web page, an officer can query the system and get a list of names for the specified query results. The system can be used to query any field or any group of fields displayed on the page. Figure 1 depicts the search screen for this capability.
|Figure 1. GPD Sexual Predator and Offender RMS Search screen|
Sergeants, corporals, and patrol officers can search the RMS by selecting their zone. The system will then display a list of offenders that live in the selected area. The list shows offenders’ names, addresses, and other information, including the last time an offender’s address was verified. The system uses a color code for the date field: green indicates that an offender’s address has been verified within the proper number of days. The date turns yellow if it is within five days of the date the verification is due, and it turns red if the date is past the required number of days. Figure 2 illustrates the results of searches for sex offenders using this capability.
|Figure 2. GPD Sexual Predator and Offender RMS Search results|
Names listed on the results screen are hyperlinked—if an officer clicks on an offender’s name, all of that offender’s information is immediately displayed on the officer’s laptop computer. This includes all personal information, name, alias, race, sex, date of birth, and photos. It also displays information about all of the recent contacts the offender has had with the GPD. This includes any arrests, field interviews, case reports, citations, and so on. Figure 3 illustrates the information provided for an individual offender.
|Figure 3. GPD individual sex offender record|
GPD officers use the RMS Field Interview Reports subsystem in the GPD Mobile Field Reporting system to update the address verification date in the RMS from the field in the following manner:
- When officers stop at an offender’s residence, they enter a Field Interview Record and select either “Attempt Address Verification” or “Address Verification” from a dropdown list provided on the Field Interview Report.
- When the report is submitted, it immediately updates the RMS without any other intervention, so that all of the other officers assigned to the area know when the last time the address was checked or verified.
- If the address is verified, the date field automatically returns to green, indicating to other officers that they do not have to verify the offender’s address.
It is important to remember that all of this is accomplished using the information in the department’s RMS and not a stand-alone system that must be updated at a later date by turning in cards, sending e-mail messages, or performing other tasks.
Using Maps to Enhance Awareness
Gainesville, like many other cities, has an ordinance that prohibits sex offenders and sexual predators from living within 2,500 feet of any school, day care center, or park (there are exceptions). GPD IT staff developed the capability to use maps generated by the system to help officers pinpoint the location of sex offenders in their zone and to help notify citizens and victims when offenders move into a neighborhood. Officers need only run a query for sex offenders and then click a button to map the locations of the resulting records. As an added feature, all of the dots on the maps are hyper-linked to data in the RMS; clicking on an individual dot drills down into stored RMS data, and the page displays all of the information in the RMS related to the selected offender. Figure 4 shows a screen capture of the GPD sex offender mapping capability.
|Figure 4. GPD sex offender mapping capability. Red pins indicate sex offenders, and blue pins indicate sexual predators.|
Summary and Recommendations
Working together, sworn personnel, crime analysts, and IT staff members can develop systems and procedures necessary for sworn personnel to have the accurate and timely information they need to keep their communities safe. Even though law enforcement agencies use different computer systems and different ways of providing information to their personnel, the following recommendations can help to provide timely and accurate information about sex offenders, gang members, and other criminal offender groups of interest:
- Consolidate information related to all types of offenders into one database, preferably the department’s RMS
- Commit resources to a small staff that is dedicated to making sure the information is accurate and up to date
- Take advantage of technologies that can make offender information more readily available to officers when and where they need it most
- Configure the RMS to perform the following functions:
- Alert officers whenever a name query is conducted on a known offender
- Check the name of registered owners whenever a vehicle license plate query is conducted
- Automatically query national, state, and other local databases whenever a name query is conducted
- Provide officers with the ability to query for offender information based on a single query field or a selected group of criteria, such as type of alert, name, race, sex, and/or location
- Provide the capability for officers to conduct real-time RMS queries for a list of sex offenders, gang members, and other offenders in the area to which they are assigned or for which they are responsible as supervisors
- Take advantage of mapping technologies that can help officers create and manipulate maps that show location data for all offenders
Adoption of these recommendations will help make agencies more effective and efficient when managing sex offenders and gang members and in the operations they undertake to make their communities safer.
The author thanks Chuck Georgo, executive director of Nowheretohide.org, for his help with this article. ■
Captain Ed Posey, a 23-year veteran of the Gainesville Police Department, has worked in various uniform and plainclothes assignments, spending six years as the department’s information systems technology commander. Captain Posey serves as a board member of the IACP Criminal Justice Information Systems Committee and is a member of the Law Enforcement Information Management Section. He is also a subject matter expert for the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation National Data Exchange (N-DEx) project and represents his agency for the FINDER, LInX, and FLEX data-sharing projects.
From The Police Chief, vol. LXXV, no. 6, June 2008. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.