Jules Verne, the French author widely regarded as the "Father of Science Fiction," wrote about traveling by air, through space and underwater in the mid-to-late 1800s, long before those technological fantasies were considered legitimate possibilities. Comparative to Verne's foreshadowing of the Internet, cars and space travel, Alex Mankevich's vision shouldn't be so far reaching.
Mankevich, a latent print expert who's been working with law enforcement for 28 years, believes forensic databases are the means to cuffing repeat offenders and reducing crime. Though they are shadowed by their more famous, better-funded and nationally supported siblings AFIS (Automated Fingerprint Identification System), CODIS (Combined DNA Index System) and NIBIN (National Integrated Ballistics Information Network), smaller niche databases exist across the nation, assisting law enforcement in various ways.
"Whether it's fingerprint, DNA or firearms — or especially shoe prints — bad guys are going to keep on going until a database catches them," Mankevich explains. "And [once you've caught them], you have your forensic evidence … something solid to present in court." In Mankevich's vision, multiple forensic disciplines would have a nationally linked database program in place. He would like to see investigators and qualified law enforcement utilize a variety of science and technology when investigating a crime; he believes in the strength of forensics.
But Mankevich sees some loopholes in the forensic databases available to law enforcement. Databases not mandated by federal law don't receive the kind of attention and funding like AFIS, CODIS and NIBIN. This lack for other forensic disciplines makes room for criminals to inadvertently skirt the system, since agencies don't have linked systems for tracking other possibly helpful evidence — in some cases vital — to an investigation.
Sundry forensic analysts have taken the initiative to find a way to host information, which can ultimately be useful by law enforcement to inspire investigative leads or add to a case's evidentiary soundness.
Tracking biologically unique evidence such as fingerprints, DNA and firearm information through databases helps law enforcement combine the power of computers and forensic science to keep pace with the nation's crime, particularly repeat offenders. With the unified interest of solving more crimes, law enforcement and forensics analysts have blended their talents to host and pursue databases that it is hoped can hold repeat criminals accountable.'Sole' searching
In the winter of 2004 to 2005, a home invasion thief was targeting the elderly in Delaware, Pennsylvania and Maryland. Though the infected jurisdictions were varied and spanned the tri-state area, Alex Mankevich at the Maryland State Police forensics lab was able to keep an updated record of the crimes and reporting authorities through the SICAR application of SoleMate, a shoe print database. Authorities in Delaware had turned to Mankevich because of Maryland State Police's excellent shoe print program, he says.
"The police had noticed the same shoe print in the snow over the three-state area," Mankevich says. "It got to the point where [the suspect] was starting to physically attack the elderly victims. You had the community of Newark, Delaware, almost on edge, particularly the senior citizen population. The police were very concerned that the perpetrator was going to start arming himself [which] gave a lot of priority to this."
Mankevich explains that SICAR was able to keep track of crime scene details along with shoe print images and keep related authorities abreast with updated information when necessary. "It became a very powerful way of linking the information, of taking all of that raw information from the crime and turning it into criminal intelligence because of the fact that all of the shoe prints had matched and we were quite certain that the same guy [was] committing all of these crimes," Mankevich says.