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Back to Archives | Back to April 2004 Contents 

CriMNet: Minnesota Catches Up with Criminals

By Rich Stanek, Minnesota Commissioner of Public Safety and Director of Homeland Security

Editor's note: While serving as a state representative, Rich Stanek authored the bill that created CriMNet.

Law enforcement professionals are making a dent in crime through hard work and perseverance. But resources are becoming increasingly scarce and new responsibilities are continually being piled on the local police department. At the same time, many criminals are becoming more sophisticated and difficult to apprehend.

The situation is exacerbated by the fact that law enforcement technology has not kept up with technology available to the private sector, ordinary citizens, and even to criminals.

Corporations across the globe can efficiently communicate with employees and subsidiaries in distant locations. But, in many cases, law enforcement agencies cannot electronically share information with a department in a neighboring city. With more than 18,000 individual criminal justice jurisdictions in the United States, the information-sharing problems hindering law enforcement agencies are significant.

In Minnesota, we took a giant stride toward addressing these problems with the creation of CriMNet—a system that will give 1,100 police departments, sheriff's offices, jails, prosecutors, probation agencies, and other jurisdictions access to critical criminal justice information on a secure intranet.

Fewer Hiding Places for Criminals

CriMNet is a backbone that links the state's criminal justice systems. CriMNet will allow authorized personnel to view information entered anywhere in the state on a desktop or laptop computer, and eventually, from within a squad car.

Two critical components of CriMNet make it unique. The first is the integration of local jurisdictions, which makes information entered by the smallest police departments available on state databases. The second is the depth of our partnership with the Minnesota business community. Target Corporation and a trade association called the Minnesota Business Partnership have provided leadership, expertise, staff support, and funding to help the state move forward with CriMNet.

After more than five years of development, Minnesota has successfully launched the first pilot project, which incorporates nearly 600 users across the state. Six statewide databases are accessible through the CriMNet backbone at this time.

Minnesota Court Web Access: Contains nonconfidential adult criminal case and defendant information from court cases that are open, closed, or archived (excluding sealed, expunged, and deleted cases). Data is available from all of Minnesota's 87 counties.

Statewide Supervision System: Provides access to information about all offenders under supervision in Minnesota. Includes automated sentencing guideline worksheets and a link to Department of Corrections prison inmate data.

Minnesota County Attorney Practice System: Tracks the information used by the county and city attorney's offices to prepare documentation for filing criminal cases in the courts. A new adapter allows qualified CriMNet users to perform person-based searches of all records in the MCAPS system.

Predatory Offender Registry: The central repository for collecting and maintaining information for every registered offender in Minnesota.

Minnesota Repository of Arrest Photos: A central database of digital photographs taken at arrest or booking. This database also includes corresponding descriptive and demographic data and images, such as scars, tattoos, and marks that are photographed at the time of booking or arrest.

Prison Adapter: A system of more than 50,000 prison records maintained by the Minnesota Department of corrections.

Small-Town Crimes Solved with Big-Time Technology

Police in Chaska, a city of about 17,500 people located west of Minneapolis–Saint Paul, used CriMNet to find and arrest a career criminal who burglarized businesses there and in several other communities. Although the suspect initially eluded capture, police used statewide supervision information to identify and contact his probation officer, who was able to assist them. While the suspect was in custody for the Chaska crimes, police officers found evidence in his home to connect him to about 50 other burglaries. His criminal history record indicates burglary convictions dating back to 1982. The suspect has since been charged with the crimes in district court.

Another example of the practical application of CriMNet involves an 18-year-old man who set a fire to a church in the Twin Cities suburb of Burnsville last summer. After attending a class at the church, the subject left windows open to provide access when he returned later. Soon after dark, he entered the church through the open window and took electronic equipment and musical instruments. While ransacking the church, the subject stopped to smoke marijuana. He also lit a piece of paper and dropped it into a wastebasket. The fire in the wastebasket spread to a nearby desk, and soon the entire church was ablaze.

Police tracked down some of the stolen goods at a local pawnshop and were able to obtain the name of the customer who brought them in. Using the resources available through CriMNet, they found enough information about the subject to locate, arrest, and eventually charge him with arson, burglary, theft, and damage to property.

Implications for Homeland Security and Public Safety

The September 11 attacks thrust the issue of information-sharing capability to the frontline of our nation's war on terrorism. And there has been much speculation about, and criticism of, key intelligence agencies' inability, and at times, unwillingness, to share information.

In hindsight, it appears that if disparate information had been connected, there would have been greater opportunity to prevent the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks. Mohammed Atta, now known as the ringleader of these attacks, had outstanding warrants, but he was not detained when police stopped him. America's law enforcement officers must have access to real-time information, if they are to succeed as foot soldiers in the war on terror.

Prosecutors and the courts must have criminal record data available if they are to win convictions. All too often, judges and prosecutors are asked to rely on incomplete information, which allows criminals to fall through the cracks of our legal system.

A Minnesota man who was tried a few years ago had a criminal record that indicated nine aliases, seven birth dates, and six convictions—including two for indecent exposure and one for sexual misconduct. On the night before the defendant was to be sentenced for his latest crime, the county prosecutor uncovered the rest of his criminal record: 16 additional convictions, including nine for indecent conduct and three for sexual misconduct.

Although the prosecutor was able to gain a conviction with only the partial information, the judge nearly made a sentencing decision that was based on an incomplete record. Other states, like Minnesota, have seen the tragic consequences of sentencing decisions made without accurate criminal history information. Dangerous criminal offenders receive sentences that do not reflect their true threat to public safety, and they remain free to reoffend.

Counting Costs

Minnesota and a handful of states are moving forward with integrating their crime information systems, but other states face significant hurdles in this area. Minnesota will soon be prepared to share CriMNet technology and lessons learned during this project. We hope this will provide opportunity for states to integrate their criminal justice information for a fraction of the cost of starting from scratch.

Meanwhile, the cost of not sharing information has already proven to be greater than we ever imagined.


From The Police Chief, vol. 71, no. 4, April 2004. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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