Putting a SPIN on communications

New intelligence network fosters information sharing among southwestern Pennsylvania departments


     "If not for SPIN, that investigation might still be ongoing," says FBI Special Agent Chris Johnson. The prosecuting agent for the subsequent 17-count federal indictments adds that "SPIN is an important investigative tool, which promotes ongoing communications between local, state and federal officers."

     Another key player in the bank robbery case was the Web site www.bankguys.us, where users can view bulletins and photographs from unsolved incidents. It is open to both law enforcement and civilians, alike, and is a valuable tool for staying abreast of current robbery sprees in the area. SPIN messages received from Bank Guys contain links to the Web site. In this way members are prompted to regularly review new cases.

     A SPIN message disseminated by Bank Guys in October 2006 was instrumental in clearing this case. The message included links to surveillance images from related robberies committed by the same, lone perpetrator. One of the links even included an image of the perpetrator's vehicle. The incidents ranged over several SPIN network counties and into West Virginia. The frequency of the robberies put the case high on the FBI's priority list. Two days after the message was received, the perpetrator struck in the Town of McCandless.

     After the bank robbery report, O'Connor responded to the area to search for the suspect. Armed with the memory of the images he had recently viewed at Bank Guys via SPIN, he was able to locate and organize a successful arrest within minutes after he recognized the suspect's vehicle. The suspect was located in Ross Township, a neighboring jurisdiction, which because of SPIN also was aware of the investigation. Assisted by Ross and McCandless officers, an apprehension was made without further incident.

     Following the recovery of the stolen money and other evidence, the perpetrator confessed. In Johnson's follow-up interrogation, the suspect confessed to 16 additional robberies.

     Large-scale networking, via the Internet, played a significant role in the successful outcome of this case. This is a prime example of what occurs when law enforcement resources are pooled together for a mutual objective.

     With SPIN, cooperative efforts between municipal agencies have increased. Criminals can no longer travel from town to town, expecting to avoid detection because they are in fresh territory. Members of e-mail networks generally know what, when, where and how incidents have occurred in neighboring towns. This provides member officers with detailed information on what might occur in their town next. The flow of information also increases officer safety, clearance rates and crime prevention. During the exchange of information on municipal-level cases, federal and state officers often become involved. This too speaks to the aspect of pooling resources for the common good.

     SPIN also had a positive effect in solving a spree of residential burglaries. In this case, multiple SPIN members from different agencies realized after reading network messages that they were observing the same modus operandi (MO). A joint task force was formed. An arrest of multiple suspects ensued, clearing 21 burglaries in nearly as many jurisdictions and recovering much of the victims' stolen property.

     The case highlights another advantage of this simplified communication form. In the past, transient perpetrators' criminal activity went undetected across multiple communities. Once caught, offenders were often prosecuted for only a fraction of their dirty deeds. Efforts to find other victims in neighboring jurisdictions were usually hit and miss.

     Being able to reach hundreds of officers in one e-mail message has changed this. It takes just minutes to send out a message when offenders are identified. By including an arrestee's mugshot and bio along with an MO, leads are regularly opened in related cases. In geographical areas covered by viable e-mail networks, when an arrest is made in one jurisdiction, it is likely that more will follow in other areas.

Diversifying applications
     The diversity of such a communications network is only limited to the creativity of the membership. In SPIN, officer safety bulletins and wanted posters are among the top additional contributions. Training opportunities also are regularly received. Having such a strong dissemination tool creates greater training turnouts.

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