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SINS - Striking Back Smarter

Cellular phones and cereal-box-sized computers bring war rooms of information to patrol cars

"This is the city, Los Angeles, Calif. Crime happens here every 17 seconds. I know, I'm a cop. I carry a badge. My name's Friday. My partner's name is Gannon."

- From lead-in to 1960s TV series, "Dragnet"

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FOR the real-life Sgts. Friday & Gannon of the world, old-fashioned, American "just the facts, ma'am" crimefighting is about to take a leap into the stratosphere.

According to the California Department of Justice - and special agents like Michael Freer, a state narcotics agent for the last 14 years - the reason is high-technology and data-base advancements that bring war rooms full of information into the patrol car. That means accessing suspect fingerprints, photos, prison and arrest records, logistical maps, signed search warrants, and other agency documents at the touch of a key.

"This is going to change the whole world for us," says Mr. Freer, lifting a tiny cellular phone and a Grape-Nuts-box-sized computer from a leather case. Ten years ago, Mr. Freer's department was using typewriters; three years ago they got their first computer. Now, in a first-of-its-kind, $600 million collaboration between the state's Department of Justice (DOJ) and 57 state and local agencies, the law-enforcement community is striking back at criminals en masse with a Statewide Integrated Narcotics Syst em (SINS).

"Until now, nothing like this system for police has existed," says Jeff Scheel, project manager for the Los Angeles County Clearinghouse, a multi-agency crime-fighting body. "The significance goes beyond the technology itself to the concept of growing partnerships between local, state, and federal agencies," he adds. "Obviously, drug dealers don't stay in one place. This has the potential for every state in the union to join up."

Using the new system, a drug bust might ensue as follows: Assigned officers feed the location of suspects into a computer, which generates a three-dimensional map showing site location, access routes, and surrounding areas. Files showing the ownership of the bust location would appear immediately. Among the other data available might be floor plans of the targeted buildings, photos or sketches of the suspects, as well as their court and weapons records and any known connections to crime syndicates.

"When I arrive at the scene, I can already know everything about who I am looking for, what they look like ... and what other agency might be rushing to the scene as well," Freer says. "I am not only that far ahead of the criminal, I feel much safer."

Beginning July 1, through the DOJ's Integrated Access Link (DIAL), a county sheriff or other participating agency can automatically access relevant information no matter where the databases reside or what computer format they are in.

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Electronic Data Systems (EDS) of St. Louis is providing a unique application of Geographic Information System software for the project, funded by grants from the federal Bureau of Justice Assistance and Office of National Control Policy. Mainframe computers are already installed in Sacramento and Los Angeles and client agencies are connecting to them with dedicated phone lines.

Digital Equipment Corporation is the prime contractor for the project and ETAK of Menlo Park, Calif., is providing the base-map information.

"If we are unable to manage information more effectively, we will never be successful in the war on drugs," Barnes says. "We have to invest in working smarter, not in purchasing more equipment and putting more pressure on our police officers to work harder. SINS delivers that capability."

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