Database pools crime information
- By William Matthews
- Oct 23, 2002
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
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
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
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,
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.