Database pools crime information

Even months before it will be fully operational, a St. Louis regional crime

database is demonstrating its crime-fighting finesse.

"We were just toying with it and we picked some names randomly," said

U.S. Attorney Raymond Gruender. When investigators typed a name from a drug

case into the database, the search function told them the suspect was also

being investigated by another agency for mail fraud.

It took the database seconds to make the match, said Gruender, who presides

over the Justice Department's Eastern District of Missouri.

"It might have taken six months — or it might not have been done at

all," without help from the database, Gruender said. "This has the potential

to be a quantum leap in crime fighting."

It's called the Gateway Information Sharing Project. By mid-December,

when it's supposed to be fully functional, the database will contain crime

investigation data from about a dozen law enforcement agencies that operate

around St. Louis in southern Illinois and eastern Missouri.

"What makes this unique is it's got mix of federal, state and local

data," Gruender said. FBI data — "raw reports and interviews," not just

final case documents — will be in the database. There also will be police

reports and investigation data, highway patrol incident records, sheriff's

department write-ups and even information from the St. Louis Joint Terrorism

Task Force.

The agencies that contribute to the database will be able to tap into

it. Thus, the Collinsville, Ill., Police Department will have instant access

to information from FBI investigations. And the Illinois State Police will

be able to search through data collected by the St. Louis Metropolitan Police

Department.

The data will be fully text searchable, Gruender said. So investigators

will be able to type in names, addresses, phrases, automobile makes, weapons

data and other key terms — even scars and tattoos, according to the Justice

Department — to retrieve information from other cases that might be relevant

to the case they are investigating.

The retrieved data then can be exported to analytical software that

is able to identify and graphically depict relationships between people,

autos, weapons, phone numbers and other components of the crimes.

"There was nothing that linked this information together before," Gruender

said.

The crime fighting potential of the Gateway project is so promising

that Attorney General John Ashcroft highlighted it during a mid-October

swing through Missouri. "This revolutionary system will enable investigators

to identify intelligence gaps, and to see tangible links between seemingly

unrelated investigations," Ashcroft said.

The project began in 1999 as the St. Louis Intelligence Center, which

was intended to bring federal, state and local law enforcement data together

to better fight drug trafficking and violent crime.

The project sputtered along until after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks,

which made clear the importance of information sharing among law enforcement

and intelligence agencies. At that point, the FBI became more actively involved,

Gruender said.

The FBI is sponsoring similar police information sharing databases in

San Diego, Seattle, Norfolk and Baltimore, the Justice Department has said.

If the regional databases prove to be successful, they could serve as

models for a nationwide information program among federal, state and local

law enforcement agencies, the Justice Department said.

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