Pawned property notifications also have created positive results. Pittsburgh PD pawn officer, Det. Rebecca Cyr, is a regular SPIN contributor. Cyr has been tracking stolen property in the greater Pittsburgh area for more than a decade. She is known as the "go-to gal" when investigating burglary and theft cases. Her efforts have been instrumental in clearing countless offenses in the City of Pittsburgh and outlying areas.
Cyr circulates pawn sheets to subscribing agencies in the greater Pittsburgh area. She used to mail out approximately 200 packages a month, containing lists of pawned properties and the suspects selling those goods. "One mailing would take three to four days and cost the department hundreds of dollars in postage and printing materials," she says. "SPIN has streamlined what I do, giving me the ability to cost-effectively do in minutes what used to take days."
Building a network
Putting together a viable e-mail communications network is not as daunting as one might suppose. Organizing the group is the largest part of the job. During SPIN's development, two people handled all correspondence and software configurations. One person was appointed as a liaison between the law enforcement community and the host department, while the second handled technology issues. At this time, this two-person team continues to maintain the network, which takes eight to 10 manhours per week.
At the heart of any e-mail-based information sharing network is an e-mail exchange server along with anti-spam software and virus protection.
A size filter should be installed on any network server. SPIN limits total message size to 2 MB. This prevents excessive downloads and mailbox overloading. A network also should have two e-mail addresses -- one for technical or administrative requests and one for disseminating messages to the entire network. Because of the risk of intrusion by hackers, the use of Web-based service providers is not advisable. Security is of the utmost importance since much of the information being exchanged will be law enforcement sensitive.
Departments also are urged to give due consideration to policy development. It is prudent to thoroughly shepherd the idea through local, state and federal case law, with all state and federal statutes prevailing. Though e-mail networking is typically not challenged in court, administrators would be well-served to protect both their agencies and the host networks.
A highly functional network is a valuable investigative tool, and the information exchanged will produce evidence. At the end of the day, those details may ultimately be used in court proceedings. Therefore, information developed through networking must be treated as any other evidence. For this reason, evidentiary integrity must be at the genesis of any network.
A strong disclaimer also is a prudent measure to implement. All members must be made aware that they are responsible for the dissemination and use of network information. This can be accomplished by regularly sending a disclaimer to the group and including it in all administrative correspondence.
The disclaimer used by SPIN is displayed below and may be replicated for another network simply by removing any words related to SPIN and the Township of Ross.
*Notice: The information disseminated through the Southwestern Pennsylvania Intelligence Network (SPIN) is intended for lawful usage by SPIN members and other law enforcement officers, ONLY. The use of SPIN is exclusive to law enforcement personnel. It is the responsibility of each member and their respective agencies to notify the SPIN administration within 24 hours of an officer's separation from employment. Public dissemination of information derived from SPIN is subject to the same standards, restrictions and criteria as information obtained in any criminal investigation. All state and federal laws apply when disseminating or utilizing information sent or received through SPIN. The information shared through SPIN is generally deemed reliable. However, the administrators of SPIN, the Township of Ross, the Ross Township Police Department and the Ross Township Police Association do not explicitly guarantee the reliability and accuracy of the content of SPIN messages. The reliability of SPIN information is the sole responsibility of the submitting member. Taking action based on the consideration of SPIN information is the sole responsibility of the individual member who uses the information. No storing of information or creation of any database compiled of SPIN information is permissible. SPIN is not considered a Criminal Intelligence System as defined by 28 CFR Part 23.