Digital mapping to aid FBI

FBI agents investigating violent crimes in more than a half-dozen major metropolitan areas will soon begin using off-the-shelf digital mapping software to uncover valuable leads that weren't evident before.

The expansion is planned in hopes of duplicating the successes of a three-year-old pilot project in the bureau's Philadelphia field office that employs commercial mapping software to glean additional information about a crime by finding and tracking potentially helpful sources in the area immediately surrounding a crime scene.

The effort, called Project Pinpoint, is based on the theory that the clues needed to solve a crime can be found within 400 yards of where it occurred, especially in the inner city, according to the agent who conceived of and pioneered the project, Special Agent Bill Shute of the Philadelphia office.

Shute uses digital mapping software to draw a circle around the scene of a crime and uses existing police, court and FBI records to pinpoint the locations of people with potentially helpful information within the circle using color-coded icons. Potential sources of clues that Shute tracks include informants, sex predators, probation violators, bail jumpers and community leaders, and the project has been particularly useful in cases in which no witnesses came forward or in which witnesses were initially reluctant to talk.

In Philadelphia, the project uncovered information leading to arrests in two murder cases, the killings of a city police officer and a 9-year-old, and it identified potential witnesses to a barroom shooting in July that killed four people and led to the discovery of the murder weapon. It's also helped the bureau to cultivate more potential sources and, since 2004, has tripled the bureau's informant base for its violent crimes task force in the city, FBI officials said.

The project's been so productive that the FBI's Philadelphia office has expanded its use to investigations of nonviolent crimes, including cases involving public corruption, gangs and counterintelligence. The FBI is also adopting the program elsewhere in the country and it is now used by the FBI's violent crimes task forces in Detroit and Denver and planned for introduction in more than a half-dozen other major cities.


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