California gang investigators use tools--high-tech and otherwise--to gather information on gangs that can be used to win prosecutions. Photo iStock
FEATURED IN INVESTIGATION
In street gang crime and case investigations, intelligence is needed to help solve the crime and identify the persons involved. For example, suppose two rival street gangs got into an argument that led to a drive-by shooting in which a gang member was murdered. Typically in gang cases, if a witness is located, officers will be lucky to get a partial suspect or vehicle description. To even identify possible suspects, officers need intelligence information from prior law enforcement contacts. Once the suspects are identified and arrested, officers will also need intelligence information to properly prosecute those responsible.
To prove a crime was a gang-related crime in court officers need to prove the “ongoing association with the group.” To introduce gang-vs.-gang evidence in court, officers and prosecutors need to know the history of the gang members and their gang to provide the relevant historical information needed to prove the case. The problem with gang crimes is officers don’t typically know ahead of time what information they will need to solve a crime that hasn’t occurred yet. As a result, they need to have a database capable of collecting all information that may be relevant or useful at a later date. It must also be stored in such a way that the information is easily accessible to those that need it.
The CAL-GANG system was designed in part because California Penal Code section 186.21 states in part that the legislature finds and declares that it is the right of every person, regardless of race, color, creed, national origin, sex, age, sexual orientation or handicap to be secure and protected from fear, intimidation and physical harm caused by the activities of violent groups and individuals. Section 186.22(f) defines a criminal street gang for the purposes of the law and documentation. CAL-GANG is a cooperative automation project between California Department of Justice (DOJ), Bureau of Investigation, Division of Criminal Justice Information Services, Hawkins Data Center, local law enforcement agencies and ORION Scientific Systems to electronically share information on criminal street gangs and gang members via a statewide automated Intranet.
With increased mobility of gangs throughout the state, enhanced ability of gangs to finance their activities through criminal enterprise, and increased sophistication of gangs in the use of technology has created an environment that requires a more cooperative and consolidated effort by law enforcement agencies to combat gang violence and crime. CAL-GANG is a major part of law enforcement’s strategy in California by reducing gang related crimes and violence by allowing agencies to identify gang members involved in crimes, track the movement of gangs and members throughout the state, coordinate police response to gang violence, enhance officer safety, provide realistic, up to date, figures and statistical data on gang crime and violence, forecast trends and respond accordingly, and more easily solve crimes and prevent violence.
CAL-GANG takes advantage of today's fast changing Internet technology. The system is comprised of a central server at DOJ and seven regional nodes (additional nodes are in the planning stages) deployed strategically throughout the state. The database was built using Microsoft SQL Server and Netscape Enterprise Server as the web server for each location. Each regional node maintains a complete version of the application. The regional node is responsible for maintaining their local agency end user data.
The data is replicated to the DOJ central server, creating a central repository of statewide gang information. End users connect to the system either through a local area network connection to a regional node or via modem dial-up to the node. End users have the ability to query against their own regional node for local information as well as query another node or the central node for a statewide search. In the event of a node failure, the data isn’t lost, nor are the end users prevented from accessing their data. They may log-on to another node or the DOJ central node and access their data there.
Database Laws & Types
Part 23, Section 28 Code of Federal Regulations outlines the requirement that all criminal intelligence systems operating through support under the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968. It is recognized that certain criminal activities, such as loan sharking, drug trafficking, gambling, extortion, smuggling, bribery and public corruption all involve a certain degree of regular coordination and organization between a large number of law enforcement agencies. The exposure of such ongoing networks of criminal activity can be aided by the pooling of resources of information and improved communication. However, the collection and exchange of intelligence data needed to investigate such criminal activity may represent potential threats to individual privacy.
Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI): The California Department of Justice maintains information about the known criminal history of everyone arrested in the state. That information is commonly referred to as a “rap sheet.” Data collected from fingerprint cards and arrest reports must be entered into the system along with the case disposition, such as convicted, charges dropped, etc. Individuals in California have a right to review their rap sheet to confirm that it is accurate. These files are used not only to conduct criminal investigations, they’re also used by prosecutors to determine how many prior offenses the person has; whether they’re able to work a certain job, obtain a certain certification or receive a particular license.
Automated Regional Justice Information Systems (ARJIS): Today most law enforcement agencies use some sort of computer system(s) in the process of executing their public responsibilities. In San Diego County, all law enforcement agencies enter arrest information, crime reports, traffic accidents, parking citations, field contacts of suspicious subjects and more into the system that can be accessed by all other agencies within the county.
California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System (CLETS): The California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System provides all California law enforcement agencies with information from federal and state computerized information files. The system provides fast and highly reliable point-to-point messages between law enforcement agencies. All CLETS messages are confidential and are for official law enforcement use only. It is the responsibility of all federal, state, county and city agencies using the CLETS system to participate in Department of Justice training on the system. The only personal authorized to access the system are fully sworn law enforcement officers who have completed the training and successfully passed a background investigation.
Biometrics in law enforcement: The term “biometrics” is generally used today to describe the science, techniques and technologies concerned with measuring and analyzing human physiological or behavioral characteristics, especially for recognizing or authenticating individuals. Biometrics usually involves automated methods to capture information about these characteristics and use it for future comparison to establish or confirm identity. Biometrics depends upon the uniqueness of physiological factors for different persons. The combination of hardware, software, and procedures needed to collect, store, distribute and process biometric data and then perform the subsequent comparison and authentication is usually referred to as a “biometric system.” There are several potential applications for biometric systems in law enforcement including AFIS and Combined DNA Index System (CODIS).
The Automated Fingerprint Identification Systems (AFIS) has been used for more than 25 years. AFIS is a computerized system for electronically encoding, searching and matching ten print and latent fingerprints. Currently, AFIS contains 1,285,314 fingerprint records in the ten print database and over 23,292 unsolved latent fingerprints in the latent database.
The FBI Laboratory's Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) blends forensic science and computer technology into an effective tool for solving violent crimes. CODIS enables state and local law enforcement crime laboratories to exchange and compare DNA profiles electronically, thereby linking serial violent crimes to each other and to known sex offenders. Imagine that the only evidence found at a murder scene was a few strands of hair or a cigarette butt. With CODIS, law enforcement can compare DNA found at crime scenes to known subjects to help solve crime and hold criminals accountable.
Lost Child Alert Technology Resource (LOCATER) and AMBER alert programs: Through a grant administered by the Justice Department, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) offers free hardware, software, connectivity and support services to local law enforcement agencies across the country to aid in the search for missing and abducted children. In California, the Amber Alert Network uses portable electronic message signs on California freeways and has been cited as being a critical component in finding abducted children since being put into place on July 24, 2002. So far, all or part of the Amber alert system has been activated in 20 cases by the CHP. All 23 children involved in these cases have been either rescued or found safe. Governor Gray Davis said, "Our greatest resource in the pursuit of a missing child is the eyes and ears of 34 million Californians.”
Financial Crime Enforcement Network (FinCEN): FinCEN was created in 1990 to support federal, state, local and international law enforcement by analyzing the information required under the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA), one of the nation's most important tools in the fight against money laundering. The BSA's record keeping and reporting requirements establish a financial trail for investigators to follow as they track criminals, their activities and their assets. Intelligence research specialists and law enforcement support staff research and analyze this information and other critical forms of intelligence to support financial criminal investigations.
The ability to link to a variety of databases provides FinCEN with one of the largest repositories of information available to law enforcement in the country. Safeguarding the privacy of the data it collects is an overriding responsibility of the agency and its employees, a responsibility that strongly imprints all of its data management functions.
Choice Point: Choice Point is the largest U.S. public records database provider. With 16 billion records from more than 1,600 sources, Choice Point is a supplier to very major Federal law enforcement agency and over 3,000 state and local agencies. Voyager is the exclusive provider of wireless access to Choice Point data. That data is often times very helpful when officers need to find people by tracking their prior addresses, credit reports and other public and tax records.
Interstate Identification Index (III): The Interstate Identification Index system is a segment of the FBI's Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS). This system became operational nationwide in July, 1999. One of the key challenges with this program was the migration of the criminal history database to a client/server environment with improved speed, flexibility and expandability. This system is a high performance, online criminal history and mug shot database (45 million people), which is accessed by federal, state and local law enforcement agencies via the national system.
National Instant Check System (NICS): The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act mandated that a national instant criminal background check system be established by Nov. 30, 1998. The FBI operates the back-end database system and the call center for the National Instant Check System (NICS). NICS ties in with FBI's analysis center, which conducts additional research when the background check indicates that the prospective gun purchaser may not qualify to own a firearm. NICS provides any licensed firearms importer, manufacturer or dealer a determination, completed by authorized law enforcement officials, as to whether the transfer of a firearm an individual is legal or in violation of federal law. NICS supports a community of about 60,000 users and routinely handles 10,000 to 30,000 transactions per day.
Virtual Case File Systems: In any criminal investigation, there are many disparate sources and types of information. Evidence tracking, arrest logs, surveillance information and laboratory results all are stored in different electronic databases. So it can be difficult for officers and investigators to make the links and connections they need to solve crimes and close cases quickly. The Virtual Case File (VCF) case management and intelligence systems greatly enhance an officer’s ability to find information they need about a specific case in many systems.
High-tech crime prevention: Almost every traditional crime committed today has the potential of requiring investigators to recover evidence from electronic devices. Whether the information is contained in the memory of a cell phone, a personal digital device(s), a laptop or 300 computers in a business, how this evidence is recovered and preserved can often dictate success or failure of an investigation.
High-tech crimes can include distributing child pornography to unsuspecting consumers; stealing personal information such as names, addresses and social security and credit card numbers; hacking confidential systems and personal home computers to obtain and/or delete information and planting harmful viruses that destroy entire systems. Other examples of high tech crimes include cellular phone cloning, identity theft, cyber-stalking, pyramid schemes and "free gift offers" on the Internet. Most of these crimes are carried out by using technology and cannot be solved without the use of technology.
A great example of high tech crime fighting is the FBI’s Carnivore electronic surveillance system and message intercept system. It is a prime example of how technology can be used, and possibly abused in crime and terrorism control and investigation efforts. Carnivore collects data from suspect computers much like a traditional wiretap on a suspect telephone. The system evaluates the data and has helped prosecute criminals around the world who have decided to use a computer to commit their crimes.
Very few suspects are apprehended during the commission of a crime. Most are tracked down and arrested following an investigation. Using high-tech and not-so-high-tech means to establish gang involvement and actions, California prosecutors and investigators can work together to put the bad guys behind bars.