Task force scours records for fugitives

U.S. Marshals Service

Sometimes all federal marshals need to find someone hiding a wanted fugitive is a cell phone number, license plate or address.

For members of the U.S. Marshals Service’s joint task force in southern Indiana, LocatePlus helps simplify their work. The company gives law enforcement officials access to billions of online public records and other business information.

Based in Beverly, Mass., LocatePlus assembles data from disparate sources, including motor vehicle data and registrations, phone numbers, consumer filings, marketing lists, hunting licenses, inmate records, and civil and criminal court records.

Company officials have collected virtually every unlisted phone number in the country and about 30 percent of the nation’s cell phone numbers in the database, said Jon Latorella, the company’s chief executive officer and president. “We take it all and put it together in an instantly searchable report for the investigator.”

For example, if federal marshals are looking for an individual wanted for murder, they have may have information about a girlfriend’s first name and a cell phone number associated with her. Marshals can type in that number into LocatePlus’s secure site and find an address and the girlfriend’s full identity, which could lead them to the fugitive.

"Ninety-nine point nine percent of the time, [fugitives are] staying at somebody’s house, driving their car, using sometimes their phones, and sometimes bouncing from one place to another," said Tom Cassels, supervisory deputy of the Marshals’ Joint Fugitive Task Force in the Southern District of Indiana.

The technology "basically helps tie people to other relationships, and from that, we get information to get us closer to the person," he said. Marshals can get the same information through legwork, such as interviews with known associates, but it takes a longer time, he said.

A LocatePlus report provides not only a person’s current address but also every place they have lived and everyone that’s ever lived with the person, Latorella said. “You’re able to run down that list and maybe someone has some information that no computer’s going to have,” he said.

Users of LocatePlus’ database could receive too much information through a search. But in most cases, marshals already have leads on individuals they’re seeking, and the technology provides mostly relevant information about potential associates and whereabouts of wanted fugitives. Through the task force, members have access to some state, local and federal databases, but often they would physically have to be sitting in an office. Cassels said they purchased a mobile laptop computer last year that allows members to conduct better investigations in the field.

In 2003, his 10-member task force, which is now part of the Great Lakes Regional Task Force, closed 450 cases. In 2004, it closed 793 cases, which Cassels, thinks is partially because of the technology. He said it has made marshals more efficient.

The company lists about 16,500 members, including more than 2,000 law enforcement agencies, mostly midsize to smaller police departments. Latorella said a total of about 11 million transactions take place a month through the online site. Searches only produce lists of records associated with an individual but does not provide analysis. But he said his company does partner with other companies, which provide such analysis software to the law enforcement community.

However, Latorella, who is a former Massachusetts police officer, said he’s seeing a shift among larger state agencies and federal entities, too. The company’s Web site lists the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the Drug Enforcement Administration among the company’s clients.

LocatePlus also has a number of corporate clients, but the company strips Social Security numbers and dates of birth from the data to protect privacy, he said, adding law enforcement clients have access to all the data.

The company is planning to improve the technology. As a way to address any errors with the data, the technology will rank data most likely associated with an individual sought. It will also provide smart searching capability in which only a few letters of a license plate and a description of the vehicle might yield relevant data.


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