California scores with enforcement app

California scores with enforcement app

State uses parole system to share data and search for repeat offenders

By Trudy Walsh
GCN staff






California's Parole LEADS app tracks repeat offenders and stores information on parolee records in an Oracle7 database.


A Web application is helping California law enforcement agents pitch a winning game against repeat offenders.

Since January of last year, California's Corrections Department (CDC) has been using the Parole Law Enforcement Automated Data System (LEADS) to enforce the state's 'three strikes and you're out' approach to violent and drug-related crime.

Enacted in 1994, California's Three Strikes Law stipulates that anyone who has two 'strikeable' offenses'defined as serious violent, drug or property felonies'and is convicted of a third crime will receive a prison sentence of at least 25 years without possibility of parole.

Law enforcement statistics show that of offenders released on parole, more than 70 percent are arrested again within two years for additional crimes or parole violations. Sometimes offenders commit the second crime days or hours after being released.

California law enforcement agencies are required by law to share parole data. For 15 years, police and other law enforcement workers shared parole data by paper, said Larry Wagner, project director of Parole LEADS.

'We'd have eight agents sitting in a parole office for three days, waiting for a guy out in the field,' Wagner said. 'They had to sift through his box of pictures and pick out look-alikes by hand to find a pattern.'

Now they can have this information in seconds, from Sacramento to San Diego.

Police and other law enforcement officials use Parole LEADS in two ways. In the first scenario, officials track a series of crimes and look for suspects within a pool of people who have criminal records.

In the second scenario, police investigate a specific crime and look for a suspect with certain physical characteristics.

Wagner gave two real-life examples of how Parole LEADS has been used. He changed a few details to preserve privacy, which is a central feature of Parole LEADS.

Car thefts in a neighborhood increased suddenly in July last year. CDC officials searched the Parole LEADS database for all parolees released after June who had been in prison for auto theft and whose address was within a few ZIP codes of the neighborhood.

Parole LEADS flagged 14 parolees who matched the search criteria, and it mapped their addresses. Using Parole LEADS' geographic information system, crime analysts plotted the locations of the car thefts on the same map. Parole LEADS identified two parolees living in the same apartment complex less than a mile from where most of the thefts occurred.

Local police contacted the parole agents responsible for the men and found that both were released in June. The two men had also been cellmates. After two days of police surveillance, the two men were apprehended after stealing a car.

Wagner's second example showed how CDC can use Parole LEADS to track down a suspect with specific physical characteristics. A series of robberies occurred in the far northwestern part of the state. Witnesses described the robbers as white men who were large and burly. One victim said one robber was more than 6 feet 3 inches tall, having noticed that the robber had to duck to walk through a 6-foot-2-inch doorway.

The robberies became increasingly brutal, with the robbers pistol-whipping victims after they surrendered their money.

Looking out

Law enforcement agents searched the Parole LEADS database for white men who weighed more than 250 pounds, were more than 6 feet 3 inches tall and had been convicted of violent robberies. Parole LEADS returned more than 60 matches.

To narrow the list of suspects, agents interviewed the victims again. One recalled that one of the robbers called the other a name that sounded like Ebe or Ede. The agents used a sound-alike feature to search Parole LEADS for a name that sounded like Ebe and found a single suspect named Abe.

Officers notified the parole agent in charge, who arrested the suspect, a parolee who had two prior convictions for violent crimes and became a candidate for a three-strikes conviction. The second robber was also apprehended, although he was not a parolee.

A group of 15 to 20 law enforcement agencies worked closely with developers to create the custom software, which is written in C, C++, Visual Basic, Perl, Java and Java Script.

'We called in the user community from the get-go,' Wagner said.

Law enforcement officials flew to Sacramento to give Parole LEADS developers their ideas. Back at their offices, agents could also access a test version of Parole LEADS on the Web.

Although Parole LEADS is used primarily by 156 law enforcement agencies in California, it could easily be transported to other states, Wagner said.

The application uses the same federal law enforcement standards as the FBI's National Crime Information Center 2000. Parole LEADS stores more than 200,000 parolees' records in an Oracle7 Release 7.3.4.4 database.

Parole information is highly prized by rival gang members, so security is of the utmost concern, Wagner said. Parole LEADS employs 128-bit encryption.

According to Wagner, Parole LEADS was the first time the Internet was used to share confidential law enforcement information. The system uses a Compaq AlphaStation 255/300 firewall server with 64M of RAM. Developers added modifications to the server to heighten security.

Each transaction request and systems response is logged into a database for auditing. If anyone did try to breach the system, it would automatically shut down, Wagner said.

Law of the land

Parole LEADS requires that local law enforcement agencies enroll in the system. The enrollment process registers who within an agency has access to Parole LEADS data and ensures that the local law enforcement agencies have the authority to receive data.

Crime statistics are down substantially, Wagner said.

'But are all these people who have two strikes suddenly being good? No, we think they are going to Washington and Oregon, the neighboring states,' he said. 'If we had a nationwide LEADS system, where any authorized law enforcement agency around the country could use the data, then we could count a felony, even if it occurred in another state, as a third strike.'

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